The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Trump Administration can go ahead with its new public charge rule aimed at preventing low-income, legal immigrants from obtaining green cards.
A federal judge in New York had issued a national injunction last year blocking the rule from taking effect, calling it “repugnant,” But the Supreme Court justices voted 5-4, along ideological lines, to let the rule go into effect while lawsuits against it continue in the lower courts.
After the decision, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said it would "determine the most appropriate method to implement the public charge rule" and "will release additional information soon."
Immigrant rights groups joined New York City and the state, as well as Connecticut and Vermont, in suing to stop the rule by arguing it would illegally broaden the definition of who’s likely to become a public charge, reliant on government benefits. Legal immigrants who temporarily take food stamps or Medicaid could be rejected, as well as those making below a certain income threshold.
The Trump Administration has argued it's trying to prevent too many immigrants from establishing legal permanent residency if they're likely to need public benefits.
“The principle driving it is an old American value, and that’s self-sufficiency,” USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli told Fox News in an interview last year. “It’s a core principle—the American Dream itself—and it’s one of the things that distinguishes us, and it's central to the legal history in the U.S. back into the 1800s.”
Immigrant advocates said Monday’s decision will harm their communities.
"The Trump administration's public charge rules attack our loved ones and neighbors by imposing a racist wealth test on the immigration system,” said Javier. H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York. “We will continue our fight in the courts to stop this reckless policy in its tracks.”
Make the Road New York and other immigrant groups were represented by the Legal Aid Society and the Center for Constitutional Rights. They argued that the rule would disproportionately impact low-income people of color who will avoid taking benefits in order to increase the odds of getting a green card.
People who never used benefits will also be affected, said attorney Susan Welber of the Legal Aid Society’s Civil Practice Law Reform Unit.
“If you don’t make enough money, if your English skills are not considered proficient, although that’s not defined in the rule, if you have a large family,” she said, listing the new grounds for rejecting a green card application. Those making below 125 percent of the poverty level could also be denied, which Welber said is about $32,000 for a family of four.
New York City estimated these criteria could prevent 400,000 local immigrants from getting green cards.
Previously, Welber said immigrants could only be considered a public charge if they took cash assistance or lived in a nursing home. She also noted that those applying for green cards were sponsored by a parent, a relative or a spouse. “So this is really an attempt to break the preference for maintaining family unity that has been part of immigration law for a long time.”
She urged anyone who thinks they may be affected to contact a legal service organization or their own lawyer so they don’t give up health insurance or other benefits for which they are qualified.
The Trump administration tried to get the New York district judge’s injunction lifted earlier this month but a federal appellate court panel rejected the motion. The judges noted during courtroom arguments that a decision by the district court judge was expected in just a few months over whether to lift the injunction as the full case proceeds on the merits.
But the Trump Administration argued that it would suffer irreparable harm if it had to wait longer to implement the rule and asked the Supreme Court to intervene.
Monday’s decision applies to the national injunction. The public charge rule still cannot be enacted in Illinois, where a lower court decision preventing its enforcement in that state remains in place.
Update: Cuccinelli said that the Department of Homeland Security "has always been confident that an objective judiciary would reverse the injunctions imposed on the agency so that we are able to enforce long-standing law passed by a bipartisan Congress." He added, "We plan to fully implement this rule in 49 states and are confident we will win the case on the merits."
However, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio emphasized, "Immigrant New Yorkers are our neighbors, our friends, and our fellow parents. We cannot stand by while they are treated as less than human – expected to weigh putting food on the table against the need for a Green Card. The Trump Administration wants to scare us into silence, but this is New York City. We are still in court and we will not stop fighting for the rights of immigrants to feed their families."
NYC's Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Bitta Mostofi urged, "Don’t stop using public benefits unnecessarily. If you are worried or have questions about immigration and public benefits for you or your loved ones, you can call the free, confidential ActionNYC hotline at 1-800-354-0365, or call 311 and say ‘Public Charge’ to access timely and trusted information and connections to legal help. The City is here to help you make a decision that is best for you and your family.”
Beth Fertig is a senior reporter covering immigration, courts, and legal affairs at WNYC. You can follow her on Twitter at @bethfertig.