Why Is Baltimore Suing Donald Trump? City Says Government Is Making Life 'Miserable' for Immigrants

U.S. President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn after returning to the White House in the early morning hours from a trip to Mississippi, on November 27. The U.S. leader is facing a lawsuit from the city of Baltimore over his administration’s immigration policies. Alex Wong/Getty

The City of Baltimore filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Wednesday. The suit involves a new State Department immigration policy the city said discourages residents from accessing benefits and makes "life miserable for immigrants."

The City of Baltimore's lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, names President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department as defendants and accuses the government of violating the Constitution's equal protection guarantees.

In a statement announcing the suit, Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh's office accused the government of "unlawfully and secretly" changing the State Department's definition of "public charge," a provision in immigration law limiting who may come to the U.S.

Previously, the U.S. government's "public charge" policy, which denies entry to people who are likely to rely on the government for benefits, excluded essential programs, such as health care, free lunch programs and Head Start.

However, the Baltimore mayor's office asserted that "as part of the Trump administration's ongoing efforts to expand the definition of 'public charge,' and thereby further restrict the admission of otherwise eligible individuals to enter the U.S., the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM) in January 2018 to allow consular officers to consider whether visa applicants or their family members, including their U.S. citizen family members, had received noncash benefits," including essential programs.

This means that immigrants who are already in the U.S. would be at risk of being denied a change in legal status if they had received or were deemed likely to receive public benefits in the future.

"[The] Trump administration has done everything it could to make life miserable for immigrants or potential immigrants," City solicitor Andre Davis said in a statement to CBS Baltimore.

"The change was motivated by the Trump Administration's well-known hostility towards certain immigrant groups–most notably Hispanic, Asian, and African communities–and is a violation of the federal laws governing administrative agencies, including the Constitution's guarantee of Equal Protection," the Baltimore mayor's office stated.

According to the mayor's office, Baltimore and its residents have already begun to "feel the impact" of the government's changes.

"To offer just one example, enrollment in the city's Head Start program has virtually ceased among the city's African immigrant population since the start of the 2018 school year.

In her own statement, Pugh said: "Baltimore is a welcoming city, known for embracing immigrants and also benefiting from their many contributions."

"This effort by the Trump Administration to create additional obstacles to those seeking to live in Baltimore is an affront to the ideals and principles on which this nation was founded," she said. "We are determined to resist this latest attempt to deprive our immigrant communities of basic services and are confident we will prevail."

Baltimore's lawsuit was launched in partnership with nonprofit Democracy Forward.

In a statement, Democracy Forward's Executive Director Anne Harkavy said: "The State Department's unlawful public charge policy is yet another example of the Trump administration's disturbing hostility towards people born in other countries and their families, especially immigrants from places President Trump has derided."