Legal immigrants have stopped using school programs, food subsidies, housing vouchers and health clinics for which they are eligible, the lawsuit says, hurting the city’s mission to welcome immigrants and creating long-term expenses as Baltimore deals with a sicker and less-educated community.

“They’re giving up government-supported health care, they’re giving up free school lunches, they’re giving up food stamps, they’re not applying for housing,” said City Solicitor Andre M. Davis, a former federal judge. “It’s a noncash public benefit that people are abandoning so they don’t lose the opportunity for themselves or their family to get a visa.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, challenges a change to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual that took effect in January. The shift tells State Department workers evaluating visa applications abroad to consider whether applicants, their families or their sponsors have used a public benefit in the United States or might in the future.

Previous versions of the U.S. government’s “public charge” policy, which denies entry to people who are likely to become a charge on the government, explicitly excluded programs such as health care and food subsidies from consideration, the lawsuit says.

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