Lawsuit Against USCIS For “Public Charge” Records

Health Disparities, Immigrant Rights

Civil Rights Organization Sues USCIS For Failure to Produce Public Charge Records

Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for their failure to produce records responsive to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted by the racial justice organization over a year and a half ago. 

The FOIA request centered on the “public charge rule,” one of the cornerstones of the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda. In February 2018, multiple news outlets reported on a leaked draft regulation that would dramatically expand the definition of who constitutes a “public charge” under U.S. immigration law. If it came into effect, the draft regulation would have prohibited immigrants from accessing legal permanent residency if they or their family members used even one of a variety of municipal, state, or federal benefits, including HeadStart and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 

Ultimately, the public charge rule formally proposed and then implemented by USCIS, while still gravely harmful to immigrant families, was far less draconian than the leaked draft. However, the damage was done—thousands of immigrants had begun to disenroll from lifesaving benefits and to skip medical appointments in the mistaken belief that they would be targeted for immigrant enforcement. 

In response to the harm we observed in our client communities, LCR filed a FOIA request in January 2019, seeking information as to whether the White House had collaborated with USCIS to produce the draft regulation and whether the draft had been deliberately leaked to frighten immigrants into foregoing services to which they were entitled. As of September 25, 2020, USCIS has not produced a single document. 

“We have spent countless hours reassuring our immigrant clients, who have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, that they will still be able to become legal permanent residents if they visit a food pantry or apply for unemployment,” said Lauren Sampson, Staff Attorney at LCR. “The draft regulation generated enormous fear and confusion in the immigrant community. We want answers on who leaked it and why.” 

“The Freedom of Information Act is a critical tool for holding the federal government accountable,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director at LCR. “For an agency to refuse to produce any documents for over twenty months is unacceptable. We call upon the federal court to act immediately to bring USCIS into compliance with the law and to compel the release of all responsive records.” 

Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP is providing pro bono support in this matter. 

The complaint is available here: