Cook County, immigrant group sue Trump

‘Public charge’ rule would increase costs of health care, say Preckwinkle, Foxx

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle defends aspiring immigrants and charges in a lawsuit that discouraging them from using Medicaid would hike health costs. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle defends aspiring immigrants and charges in a lawsuit that discouraging them from using Medicaid would hike health costs. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Cook County and a Chicago-based immigration group have filed suit against the Trump administration, charging that a restrictive new policy would jeopardize immigrants and increase county health costs.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights joined Cook County this week in filing a federal suit seeking to “block implementation of the Trump administration’s public-charge rule, which threatens the health of millions of immigrant families throughout the country,” according to a news release put out by the Shriver Center for Poverty Law, which joined in the suit.

The so-called public-charge rule is one of many policies imposed by President Trump seeking to discourage immigrants. Set to take effect Oct. 15, it would weigh the immigration process against those who draw on public aid like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing assistance, and it has already drawn flak from many critics including U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin.

“Immigrants are part of the diverse fabric that makes Cook County strong and vibrant,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. “It is absolutely imperative that we protect our friends and neighbors from the discrimination at the hands of the Trump administration.”

The county cited its own fiscal interest as well, charging that if the rule were imposed it would discourage immigrants from applying for Medicaid. The county’s health-care system would then have to absorb the cost of any care they receive at hospitals and clinics run by Cook County, which has one of the largest public health systems in the nation, and where an estimated one in five residents has at least one immigrant family member.

“The Trump administration is penalizing diversity and threatening our public health,” said Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx. “Immigrant families should not live in constant fear and forgo public resources to access food, housing, and health care. My office is committed to keeping our community safe and secure, and we are proud to stand up to these discriminatory attacks.”

Last week, Duckworth and Durbin joined two dozen U.S. senators in sponsoring legislation to stop implementation of the new rule.

“As someone who grew up in poverty, relying on food stamps to survive, I’m appalled by the Trump administration’s cruel, heartless, and un-American ‘public charge’ rule,” Duckworth said. “My mother is an immigrant, and if this proposal had been in place then my family might have had to choose between getting her citizenship or going hungry. I’m proud to join my colleagues as we fight this dangerous policy from taking place.”


“I’m appalled by the Trump administration’s cruel, heartless, and un-American ‘public charge’ rule.”

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

“This administration’s plan to limit legal immigration based on an applicant’s wealth is entirely un-American,” Durbin said. “Penalizing immigrants living here legally will do nothing to fix the situation at our border and will only sow fear and distrust in immigrant communities across the U.S.”

“The county and ICIRR state that the Trump administration’s expansion of the public-charge rule so radically and unreasonably redefines ‘public charge’ that approximately one-third of all U.S.-born citizens would be deemed a public charge when the rule takes effect,” according to the news release. “The lawsuit alleges that the public-charge rule’s unprecedented and complicated definition will create a ‘chilling effect’ on public-benefits enrollment, resulting in mass disenrollment from public benefits such as Medicaid, even among individuals unaffected by the public-charge rule. This chilling effect will in turn threaten public health in Cook County.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, the county is already feeling the effects, spending $550 million on uncompensated health care this year, a 73 percent increase over five years ago and the largest figure since the Obama administration expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The county might be feeling the fiscal effects, but ICIRR pointed out that immigrants were feeling the actual pain and intimidation. “Our coalition partners have seen a 20 percent decline in families enrolling in public benefits programs compared to this time last year, particularly with those in mixed-status households who qualify,” said Luvia Quinones, health-policy director at ICIRR. “The new rule is meant to intimidate and create confusion. It’s critical to stand up to these types of scare tactics and to keep our communities informed.”

“As a lawyer who has spent a career fighting for my clients’ access to health coverage and health care, I am appalled at this administration’s unconscionable and illegal scheme to foment fear in our community over using lifesaving Medicaid,” said Carrie Chapman, attorney at Legal Council for Health Justice, which also joined in filing the suit.

“This inhumane and cruel rule is in conflict with hundreds of years of settled law and continues the Trump administration’s demonization of immigrants of color and people who are low-income,” added Kate Walz, of the Shriver Center. “No one should have to live in fear because of their racial identity or national origin, and no family should have to choose between meeting their basic needs and being with their loved ones.”