Lawsuit challenges immigrant services
Jul 22, 2008
A lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court seeks to stop the city of Lexington and some other government agencies from providing some benefits to undocumented immigrants.
The lawsuit names the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and the Kentucky Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. It argues that documented residents are suffering in the form of higher taxes and fewer services.
The lawsuit asks the court to order the city government to halt all non-exempt and non-emergency state and local public benefits to people who can't provide a valid driver's license or Social Security Number.
Some of the non-emergency benefits provided by the health department include cancer screening, home visitation for newborns, pregnancy tests and WIC assistance for low-income women and children.
Representatives of the city and health department declined to comment and said their legal representatives were reviewing the lawsuit. Officials at the state vocational office could not be reached.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Lexington residents David Duncan and Wendy DeVier and Jenean McBrearty of Danville.
DeVier was a member of a mayoral task force formed a year ago to study immigration in Lexington. Duncan, an outspoken critic of Mayor Jim Newberry and the city's policies regarding immigrants, helped her craft a dissenting opinion from the task force's recommendations.
The lawsuit, which is actually a writ of mandamus, asks the federal government to compel the city and state to enforce existing law.
Duncan called the lawsuit a first of its kind and hopes other communities will use it as a model.
Denise Gilman, a clinical professor of law at the University of Texas Law School, called the suit an interesting ”twist“ on what's been happening elsewhere. Nationally, the trend is for state and local governments to pass laws restricting benefits to undocumented immigrants.
However, Gilman expressed doubt the lawsuit will get very far.
”The facts, as egregious as they may seem to these complainants, don't make it obvious there is any violation of the law, which is of course what you have to show to be successful in litigation,“ she said.
Jonathan Blazer, a public benefits policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center, said undocumented immigrants are restricted from most benefits under federal law.
However, there are services that are exempt as humanitarian, such as emergency-room care, or for the greater good of the community, such as immunization against communicable disease.
Many of the services that could be affected by this lawsuit might be exempt, he said.
”You hear all the time that illegal aliens are getting major welfare benefits,“ Blazer said. ”But when these lawsuit are brought on occasion they focus on stuff that is pretty low level and not normally what people think of when they object to undocumented people getting benefits.“