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SJC: High Bar To Deny Immigrant Benefits

BOSTON — Advocates in Massachusetts are hailing a decision by the state’s highest court that sets a high bar for denying benefits to immigrants.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday that while the state constitution’s guarantee of protection against discrimination doesn’t explicitly extend to immigration status, any attempt to discriminate against legal immigrants will be held up to the strictest judicial scrutiny.

The decision came in a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of legal immigrants denied coverage under the state’s subsidized Commonwealth Care health plan.

Lawyers for the immigrants said the ruling will make it harder for the state to argue that a 2009 decision by lawmakers to block them from the program was constitutional.

“They’ve set a very high bar for the commonwealth to come forward and offer justification for the law and they said that the limitation of financial resources is not going to be good enough to let this law stand,” said Health Care for All’s Matt Selig.

Selig says the court did not specifically tell the state it must restore full benefits. Restoring full benefits for all 40,000 qualified legal immigrants would cost the state about $150 million.

The lawsuit, filed last year, now heads back to a single justice of the court.

With reporting from The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom

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