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Immigrants forgoing medical benefits due to new Trump green card law: court filing

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Two California counties, San Francisco and Santa Clara, say immigrants are already forgoing essential health and social services out of fear ahead of new Trump administration rules set to take effect in October.

The Trump administration announced in August that it would be moving forward with one of its most aggressive steps yet to restrict legal immigration: potentially denying green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

READ MORE: Trump’s new rule targets legal immigrants who use food stamps

Federal law already requires individuals seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status in the U.S. to prove they will not be a burden, or a “public charge,” to the government. The new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.

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In the filing to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the counties cite the “irreparable harm” they say the public charge bill is already inflicting on their residents by allegedly driving them to disenrol from their benefits. The counties are hoping to convince the court to issue a preliminary injunction.

“If this rule would go into effect, you can’t the undo the damage of people who are not going to be accessing public health services, not going to be accessing needed governmental services or programs,” James Williams, counsel for Santa Clara County, told CBS News on Wednesday.

“That damage can’t be undone, and that’s why the rule needs to be blocked now.”

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The court documents not only suggest that fear of the legislation is already causing harm but go on to claim that underuse of public health and social services in the region could actually hurt the local economy.

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“The Counties’ economies will also suffer as the Final Rule causes noncitizens and their families to forgo and disenroll from medical, food and other benefits,” the filing reads.

SNAP, a program that provides eligible individuals with electronic funds to buy food from retailers, is used an as example in the documents. The authors of the filing write that disenrolment from SNAP alone is poised to cost the San Francisco economy almost US$1 million.

“Because of the Final Rule, the Counties will lose out on the economic benefits of these funds, negatively impacting the Counties’ economic growth and revenue and causing yet more harm,” the court document states.

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In addition, the filing argues that the cost of protecting the public from the additional health risks brought on as fewer people access medical services could rise.

“The Counties will face the increased costs to protect public health in the face of these increased disease and outbreak risks. First, the Counties’ public health departments are already devoting resources to determining how to best adjust programs to compensate for these elevated threats to public health,” the filing reads.

“Second, when noncitizens and their families avoid routine medical treatment for infectious diseases and other ailments, the Counties will incur the uncompensated cost of treating those infections when they become emergencies, at a significantly higher cost,” it continues.

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David Skorton, CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, has expressed similar sentiments, claiming that discouraging people from accessing health care could potentially exacerbate illnesses and, therefore, increase the cost of health care.

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“This change will worsen existing health inequities and disparities, cause further harm to many underserved and vulnerable populations and increase costs to the health-care system overall, which will affect all patients,” he said in a statement.

Under these new rules, set to come into full force this October, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh whether applicants have received public assistance, along with other factors such as education, income and health, to determine whether to grant legal status.

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Other states and groups have also pledged to challenge the bill. New York, Vermont and Connecticut have also announced plans to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration over the legislation.

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In addition, the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said it would file a lawsuit, calling the new rule an attempt to redefine the legal immigration system “in order to disenfranchise communities of colour and favour the wealthy.”

— With files from the Associated Press

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