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September 02, 2010

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NEW JERSEY SUED FOR CONSTITUTIONAL VIOLATIONS IN DENYING IMMIGRANT PARENTS ACCESS TO STATE-FUNDED MEDICAID

Class Action Seeks Relief for 12,000 Lawful Permanent Residents Affected by Immigration-Based Medicaid Cuts

NEWARK, NJ - Seton Hall Law School's Center for Social Justice and Gibbons, P.C., filed a class action complaint today in New Jersey, alleging that the State's Department of Human Services ("Agency") is violating permanent residents' equal protection rights under the United States and New Jersey Constitutions by denying them State-funded Medicaid because of their alienage and immigration status. The Plaintiffs, many of whom work at low-wage jobs, are lawful-permanent-resident parents in New Jersey, who because of their low-income were deemed eligible to receive and, until recently, did receive State-funded Medicaid known as New Jersey FamilyCare ("NJFC"). Citing the State's financial crisis, however, in April and July of this year, the Agency terminated Plaintiffs' Medicaid coverage, stating that Plaintiffs were no longer eligible for NJFC because they have not been lawful permanent residents for at least five years.

The complaint describes the harm experienced by the nearly 12,000 low-income, lawful permanent residents affected by those cuts: without NJFC assistance, Plaintiffs can no longer afford regular checkups, preventive care, and treatment for serious illness. One of the named plaintiffs, a single mother with two small children, had surgery to remove a kidney in 2007. She is now unable to afford monitoring of her kidney problems or medical care in the event of future illness. Two other plaintiffs—working parents from Haiti and Ecuador—required emergency medical care last month, but after being terminated from State-funded Medicaid, were unable to pay for such treatment. Several of the Plaintiffs have family histories of heart disease, high cholesterol and diabetes and worry that without regular check-ups and preventive care, they will be unable to prevent irreversible damage to their health.

The complaint alleges that by singling out this group of immigrants for termination of their healthcare coverage, the Agency is discriminating against plaintiffs on the basis of their alienage and immigration status in violation of the equal protection guarantees of the Federal and State Constitutions.

“Not only is it unconstitutional to distinguish between New Jersey residents on the basis of their alienage and immigration status when dispensing critical health care assistance—it is counterproductive,” said attorney Jenny-Brooke Condon, an Associate Professor at Seton Hall's Center for Social Justice. “Many of the 12,000 lawful permanent residents affected by these State-Medicaid cuts are hard-working residents of the State, who pay taxes and support their families by working inlow-wage jobs. Ensuring that the working poor receive essential, preventive healthcare and treatment for illness keeps New Jersey residents healthy, which, in turn, keeps them working."

Many of the Class Representatives named in the lawsuit expressed outrage at being singled out for healthcare cuts on the basis of their immigration status. “I work hard, pay taxes, and play by the rules; I am a lawful resident of this State," said Class Representative Nadia Chery, a native of Haiti who works as a home healthcare aide. “So when the government said it was cutting my benefits because of my immigration status, it was as if I had done something wrong because I am an immigrant. I felt that I was being discriminated against.”

Class Representative Manual Guaman, a native of Ecuador who works as a cook to support his wife and three small children, described the anguish he felt when he suffered a severe allergic reaction in July after losing his NJFC assistance. “I didn't know what to do. Should I get treatment at a hospital, knowing I will not be able to afford the bill, or should I take my chances that I will get better?" said Guaman. "I decided to go to the hospital, thinking that if I became sicker I might not be able to keep working and support my family. Being healthy for my family is my first priority.” But Guaman added that not being able to pay the hospital bill he received after his July emergency room visit has discouraged him from seeking follow-up care and additional medical assistance.

In addition to asserting equal protection claims, the complaint alleges that in denying Class Members NJFC assistance, the Agency has also violated a New Jersey statute governing the State Medicaid program. That statute provides that both citizens and lawful permanent residents are eligible for State-funded Medicaid. The complaint filed today amends a complaint filed by Plaintiffs on June 29, 2010, and newly challenges the Agency's July 6, 2010 regulation, which the Agency published only after it had already terminated most Class Members' NJFC assistance. Plaintiffs seek a declaration from the court that the agency's actions and regulation violate the Federal and State Constitutions and the NJFC statute, and also seek injunctive relief restoring Class Members' NJFC assistance.

A copy of the complaint can be found at http://law.shu.edu/ProgramsCenters/PublicIntGovServ/CSJ/upload/Guaman_Amended_Complaint.pdf

Seton Hall University School of Law, New Jersey's only private law school and a leading law school in the New York metropolitan area, is dedicated to preparing students for the practice of law through excellence in scholarship and teaching with a strong focus on clinical education. The Center for Social Justice, a core of Seton Hall Law School's Catholic mission, provides clinical education and volunteeropportunities to students and engages in various forms of advocacy, scholarship and direct legal services in an effort to secure equality, civil rights and legal protection for individuals and communities in need. Seton Hall Law School is located in Newark. For more information visit, http://law.shu.edu/.

The law firm Gibbons P.C. sponsors the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest & Constitutional Law under the guidance of John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and Lawrence S. Lustberg, Director of the Gibbons Fellowship Program. The Gibbons Fellowship, supported by the broader resources of the firm as a whole, undertakes public interest and constitutional law projects and litigation. Working with a broad cross-section of public interest groups, the Fellowship Program has become widely known in New Jersey and nationally as a voice for the poor and underrepresented. The Fellowship has been and remains involved in the most significant and controversial issues that confront the Federal and State courts today. For more information visit http://www.gibbonslaw.com/about/index.php?view_page=3