ACLU of CO Sues to Stop State's April 1 Cutoff of Medical Aid to Legal Immigrants

Affiliate: ACLU of Colorado
March 27, 2003 12:00 am

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DENVER– The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado today filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the April 1 implementation of a new state law that cuts off medical assistance to about 3,500 legal immigrants who are currently covered and who cannot afford to pay for their own medical care.

“The new law singles out sick and elderly legal immigrants who desperately depend on this assistance for vital medical care,” said Mark Silverstein, Legal Director of the ACLU of Colorado.

“There is only one reason why the legislature has singled out this group of vulnerable Colorado residents for such cold-hearted treatment: their immigration status,” Silverstein added. “Under the Equal Protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment, Colorado cannot engage in that kind of discrimination.”

The controversial budget-cutting measure passed the Colorado legislature on March 5, and Governor Owens signed it into law the same day. The law terminates Medicaid coverage for legal immigrants who are dependent on assistance for essential medical and nursing home services while continuing to provide benefits to citizens who are in the very same financial straits. Medicaid is a federal program jointly funded by federal and state funds. The Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the state’s Medicaid program, instructed county agencies to implement the cutoffs in just 26 days.

The ACLU lawsuit asks the Court to invalidate the law and to issue an emergency temporary restraining order before thousands of immigrants lose their medical assistance on April 1.

In legal papers, the ACLU said that the Colorado statute violates the Constitution by discriminating against legal immigrants who qualify for medical assistance under federal law. The lawsuit also alleges that in their haste to implement the new provision, Colorado officials failed to follow legally required procedures to ensure that individuals who remain eligible even under the new restrictions are not mistakenly cut off.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that this kind of discrimination against legal immigrants is a direct violation of the Constitution,” Silverstein noted. “States simply do not have the power to save money by adopting restrictions that punish legal immigrants who are entitled to live here and who qualify for assistance under federal law.”

The ACLU lawsuit names eight legal immigrants as plaintiffs, many of whom are elderly, disabled, recovering from strokes, and suffering from a variety of severe and chronic medical conditions that require regular prescription medication that soon will be cut off. Four of the plaintiffs currently live in nursing homes, and some have already been served with eviction notices in anticipation of the funding cutoff. Additional plaintiffs are totally dependent on home care services that will end next week if the scheduled cutoffs are implemented.

“Colorado has acted in disregard of its constitutional obligations by attempting to abolish Medicaid benefits for legal immigrants who are eligible for the program under federal law,” said Gregory Piche of Holland & Hart, who filed the lawsuit as an ACLU volunteer attorney. “We will ask the Court for an emergency order to preserve our clients’ access to vital and essential medical care.”

The case is Soskin v. Reinertson. The ACLU’s legal papers are online at /node/35000

In addition to Piche and Silverstein, the legal team staffing the lawsuit includes attorneys from the ACLU Immigrants Rights Project, the National Immigration Law Center, the Welfare Law Center, and the National Health Law Project.

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