N.J. joins lawsuit against Trump’s effort to drive immigrants off public aid programs

a sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer's market

In this Friday, March 17, 2017, file photo, a sign advertises a program that allows food stamp recipients to use their EBT cards to shop at a farmer's market in Topsham, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty/AP Photo)

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal is among the plaintiffs in a multistate lawsuit against the Trump administration over a new immigration rule that advocates say will drive immigrant communities further underground.

The rule expands the definition of a “public charge” to include immigrants using certain public assistance programs, including Medicaid and food stamps. Immigrants deemed a “public charge” have a more difficult time being granted legal status.

Immigrant rights advocates blasted the rule change, saying immigrant families will be even less likely to go to the government for help with basic needs.

“The long-term impact of that will be further living in the shadows, not getting nutritious food for their families and children,” said Chia-Chia Wang, the organizing and advocacy director for the American Friends Service Committee in Newark.

Trump administration officials have said that the rule change will encourage more self-sufficient immigrants to come to the United States.

But the lawsuit filed by a group of 13 states claims that the new definition of “public charge” breaks with decades of legal interpretation.

Joanne Gottesman, head of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at Rutgers University, said the new rule is already making some immigrants more anxious.

“I just yesterday got a phone call from a client who was anxious about applying for food stamps for her U.S. citizen children. She is eligible for a humanitarian form of immigration relief, and this doesn’t even apply to her, the public charge inadmissibility,” Gottesman said. “But it doesn’t matter. She was afraid.”

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