Los Angeles (AFP) - A coalition of states sued US President Donald Trump's administration Friday over its new "public charge" rule that aims to deny permanent residency and citizenship to immigrants who claim welfare benefits.
The attorneys-general of California, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit at a federal court in San Francisco stating that the rule is unconstitutional and disproportionately targets non-white immigrants.
"It's remarkable what this administration is up to -- it's insidious beyond words and California will have none of it," California governor Gavin Newsom said at a news conference in Sacramento.
The new White House rule, which affects immigrants who receive food stamps, public health care and other assistance, threatens to set back the citizenship hopes of millions of mostly Hispanic migrants.
The lawsuit argues that it "stacks the deck" against marginalized people including children, the elderly and low-wage families.
"The rule was motivated by intentional race- and national origin-based animus against individuals from what President Trump has referred to as 'shit-hole countries'," it states.
The White House announced Monday its new definition of the longstanding "public charge" law.
The term "public charge" in modern times has usually been defined as someone who is primarily dependent on the government.
The new criteria means 22 million non-citizen residents of the United States who are using public services such as food stamps and public health care will not be able to obtain green cards or US citizenship.
In addition, migrants will not be granted resident visas if they are deemed too poor and likely to need public assistance.
"To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient," Trump said in a White House statement.
The new standards would apply to non-citizen residents who use public services repeatedly after October 15, 2019.
California attorney-general Xavier Becerra, who filed the lawsuit, said: "This cruel policy would force working parents and families across the nation to forego basic necessities like food, housing, and healthcare out of fear."
"That is simply unacceptable," he added. "We will fight this unlawful rule every step of the way."
California is home to more than 10 million immigrants -- nearly a quarter of its population, and the largest immigrant population in the US.
Becerra said further lawsuits would be filed by other states as well as individuals and organizations.