US sued over health insurance rule for immigrant families

Seven U.S. citizens and a nonprofit organization filed the federal lawsuit in Portland, Oregon.

By Amy Taxin / Associated Press

A lawsuit Wednesday accused the Trump administration of preventing Americans from bringing their foreign spouses and parents to live with them in the United States by requiring those immigrants to prove they can afford health care before they get visas.

Seven U.S. citizens and a nonprofit organization filed the federal lawsuit in Portland, Oregon, over the rule that’s set to take effect Sunday. It applies to people seeking immigrant visas from abroad, not those already in the country, and doesn’t affect asylum seekers, refugees or children.

“Congress makes laws, the president executes them. This is an egregious attempt to supercede and overturn congressional will, not only in the immigration realm but in the health care realm,” said Jesse Bless, director of federal litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association who helped file the case.

A message seeking comment was sent to the State Department.

The rule is the Trump administration’s latest effort to limit immigrant access to public programs while trying to move the country away from a family-based immigration system and into a merit-based system.

Earlier this year, the administration made sweeping changes to regulations that would deny green cards to immigrants who use some forms of public assistance, but the courts have blocked that measure.

Under the government’s visa rule, the required insurance can be bought individually or provided by an employer and it can be short-term coverage or catastrophic.

Medicaid doesn’t count, and an immigrant can’t get a visa if using the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies when buying insurance. The federal government pays for those subsidies.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status and to block the rule from taking effect.

The rule is a problem for Iris Angelina Castro, an American citizen from Springfield, Illinois. The former teacher has applied for her husband, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, to obtain an immigrant visa to join her in the United States.

He’s been preparing paperwork for a consular interview, but now they doubt he will qualify because she quit her job after her son got sick and now has state health insurance, according to the complaint.

She is pregnant with her second child and wants her husband to be there for the birth of their daughter.

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are trying to bring their spouses to live with them from Mexico and Germany. One woman is trying to bring her parents from Nicaragua and hasn’t been able to find them reasonable health insurance.

“It’s an impossibility,” said Bless, the attorney. “There’s been no standards provided to show: ‘How much money do I need to show that I can pay for my own care?’”

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