U.S. Judges Block Trump Administration’s “Public Charge” Rule

Ruby Shealy

On Friday, CBS reported that Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan issued a nationwide injunction prohibiting the Trump administration from enforcing the “public charge” rule, which was set to go into effect 15 October. Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson, a federal judge in Washington state, and Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton, a district court judge in San Francisco, also blocked the regulation. Similar rulings followed in Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.

The proposed regulation would allow immigration caseworkers to reject green card and visa applications from legal immigrants who currently use government benefits, or who officials determine may rely on government services in the future. The term “public charge” has been used in U.S. immigration policy since 1882, but this proposal would expand its definition from someone who is primarily dependent on the U.S. government to someone who uses temporary government assistance like food stamps or federally subsidized housing. The rule would allow caseworkers, when determining if a person is deemed a “public charge”, to consider enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), certain Medicaid benefits, and several forms of government-subsidized housing, including Section 8 vouchers. They will also be able to take into account the applicant’s age, education, health, and English language proficiency to determine if they will need government support in the future.

In his ruling, Judge Daniels wrote, “The Rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification… It is repugnant to the American dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility”. He also stated that the Trump administration did not provide sufficient explanation of the reasoning behind changing the definition of “public charge”, saying that the new standard “has absolutely no support in the history of U.S. immigration law”. Judge Phyllis Hamilton added that the regulation would “upend” operations by local governments to provide government services to immigrants.

Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, defended the regulation, saying, “An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law”. He added that “long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed”. When he unveiled the new rule in August, he went so far as to offer an edited version of “The New Colossus” poem, which appears on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, telling NPR, “Give me your tired your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge”.

Despite these statements from Trump administration officials, critics of the regulation have continued to point out the devastating effects that the rule would have on low-income immigrants. Lawsuits filed by 21 states argued that the rule would disproportionally affect low-income immigrants of colour and would undermine the well-being of children and families who choose to avoid using government services. A study by the Urban Institute found that discussion of the rule has already caused many families to drop food, medical, and housing benefits out of fear that it could negatively affect their immigration petitions. Judge Malouf Peterson added that these effects would hurt state governments, who would have to perform “ongoing triage for residents who have missed opportunities for timely diagnoses, vaccinations, or building a strong foundation in childhood”.

Many have celebrated Friday’s rulings as a victory against the Trump administration’s attempts to make legal immigration more difficult. However, they only serve as a temporary block, and the Trump administration is expected to appeal the courts’ decisions. While the rulings are promising, they are only the beginning of a long fight to permanently overturn Trump’s “public charge” rule and other legislation aimed at discriminating against immigrants on the basis of race or income.