Md. is sued on children's behalf

Legal Aid suit says state discriminated against noncitizens


Attorneys for the Legal Aid Bureau filed a lawsuit yesterday on behalf of eight children, alleging that the state discriminated against them and other non-U.S. citizens by eliminating medical coverage for low-income, legal, permanent resident children.

The lawsuit, filed yesterday in Montgomery County Circuit Court, asks that the cuts be declared unconstitutional and requests an injunction requiring the state to provide health coverage to the plaintiffs.

"We feel that the budgetary cuts are discriminatory and violate the equal protection section of the state constitution," said Regan Bailey, a Legal Aid Bureau attorney for the plaintiffs. "These kids have been singled out simply because they're not U.S. citizens."

A spokeswoman for S. Anthony McCann, secretary of Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, refused to comment.

Henry Fawell, spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., also declined to respond to the lawsuit directly.

"The governor has a meeting with the budget staff and looks forward to proposing a compassionate and fiscally responsible budget in January," he said.

The children, two of whom live in Montgomery County and the other six in Prince George's, lost their medical coverage July 1 when the state eliminated a $7 million Medicaid program that covered legal immigrant children and pregnant women who resided in the United States for less than five years.

The cuts, which affect about 4,000 people statewide, sparked an uproar among immigrant advocates, some state legislators and Ehrlich's Democratic challengers for the 2006 governor's race - Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

A month later, Ehrlich said that in light of a recently announced surplus, he would restore $1.5 million to cover pregnant legal immigrants. But advocates argued that it was the General Assembly that, months earlier, had proposed that Ehrlich include the $1.5 million in the budget. They also complained that needy children would suffer unless the remaining $5.5 million was restored.

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