Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


Rule discourages people from accessing health care

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson led a coalition 17 attorneys general, 45 state and local elected officials to call on the Trump Administration to delay its “public charge” rule while the COVID-19 outbreak and response is ongoing.

Federal law allows many lawful immigrants to apply for public benefits, such as health care, if they have been in the country for at least five years. The new rule creates a “bait-and-switch” ― if immigrants use the public assistance to which they are legally entitled, they would jeopardize their chances of later renewing their visa or becoming permanent residents.

Washington is co-leading a multistate coalition challenging this rule. Washington won an injunction in federal district court but an appeals court declined to stay the rule while the case is pending.

Ferguson’s letter, directed to the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, blasts the administration for discouraging people from accessing health care they are entitled to in the midst of a public health crisis.

“DHS received warnings of the potentially devastating effects of the Rule if its implementation were to coincide with the outbreak of a highly communicable disease – a scenario exactly like the one confronting our communities with the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the letter reads. “Your agency completely failed to consider such legitimate concerns.”

“DHS’s implementation of the Public Charge Rule during this public health crisis is irresponsible and reckless,” the letter continues. “DHS openly concedes the Rule could lead to ‘increased prevalence of communicable diseases,’ disenrollment from public programs, and increased use of emergency rooms as a primary method of health care. Washington State has already had ten deaths attributable to COVID-19. The State is doing everything in its power to limit the spread of the disease and prevent additional fatalities. States, cities, and counties are undertaking similarly dramatic efforts to limit the spread of the disease and mitigate its harmful effects. With this threat looming, however, DHS’s policy of deterring immigrants from using the medical benefits to which they are legally entitled directly undermines and frustrates our public health professionals’ efforts, putting our communities and residents at unnecessary risk.”

“You have authority to swiftly correct your agency’s inexcusable failure to consider the Public Charge Rule’s risks to public health and safety,” the letter concludes. “We urge that you immediately stay implementation of the Public Charge Rule pending successful containment of COVID-19 to assist our public health professionals and protect our communities.”

Read the letter here.


The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.


Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.aho@atg.wa.gov