Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


New administration set to reverse course on rule targeting legal immigrants

SPOKANE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson offered the following statement on the Biden Administration’s request to dismiss the federal government’s appeal of Washington’s injunction of the Trump Administration’s ‘public charge’ rule:

“My office led a coalition of 14 states challenging the Trump Administration’s ‘public charge’ rule targeting immigrant families. We won an injunction to stop the rule from going into effect while we fought it in court. Today, the Biden Administration withdrew its appeals, blocking this unlawful, un-American policy while the Biden Administration finishes its policy review. This is a victory for children of lawfully present immigrants, who were in danger of going hungry or losing their homes as a result of the Trump Administration’s heartless action.”

In August 2018, Ferguson co-led a 14-state coalition in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington challenging the Trump Administration’s revisions to the public charge rule.

Under the changes, if an immigrant who is legally in the country used benefits to which he or she was entitled ― such as food assistance to feed their U.S. citizen children or housing assistance ― even for a short time, the federal government could have revoked their legal status, or even deported them.

Even if an individual does not use these benefits, the Trump Administration rule expanded the government’s ability to deny a visa or permanent residency to any immigrant it predicts will use a broad range of short-term benefits at any point in the future, without clear standards for making that determination.

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

In October 2019, Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in Spokane issued a nationwide preliminary injunction. In order to grant a preliminary injunction, the judge found that the states have a substantial likelihood of winning the case, and that if the changes go into effect, the states are likely to suffer irreparable harm. In December 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the preliminary injunction, limiting it to the 14 plaintiff states.

The Trump Administration appealed the ruling up to the United States Supreme Court. Today Washington filed a joint motion with the Biden Administration in the high court to dismiss the federal government’s request for review, which the Supreme Court granted. It also withdrew its pending appeal in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Washington impacts

Washington state is home to approximately 455,000 children who are U.S. citizens and have at least one immigrant parent. These families would have likely refrained from applying for services they need out of fear it would be used against the immigrant parent.

For example, if a U.S. citizen applies for food or housing assistance for their family after losing their job and lists their immigrant spouse as a beneficiary, they would have jeopardized their spouse’s chances of getting a visa or permanent residency in the future. Immigration officials could have even chosen to deport their spouse.

If the rule had remained in effect, families who needed help obtaining adequate food, health care or shelter would have foregone up to an estimated $55 million annually in food or cash assistance. More Washington families and children would have experienced hunger and food insecurity. More families would have suffered homelessness, resulting in poorer health and educational outcomes for children.

Washington estimates that more than 140,000 lawfully present Washingtonians, including many U.S. citizen children, would have lost health insurance as a direct result of the rule. Many of these people would have gone to the emergency room for routine medical care, requiring Washington to cover the vastly more expensive medical costs.

Women would have lost routine reproductive care services, resulting in more unintended pregnancies, more high-risk deliveries and increased costs for newborns whose health was compromised by the lack of adequate pre-natal care.

In addition to Washington and Virginia, other states involved in the lawsuit were: Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.



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.

Media Contact:

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

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