Supreme Court clears way for 'public charge' rule

In a 5-4 ruling issued today, the Supreme Court will allow the Trump administrations’ public charge rule to take effect. The ruling ends a nationwide injunction put in place by a federal judge last year:

Soon after its final version was published last summer, the “public charge” rule was blocked in court, with one federal judge calling it “repugnant to the American dream.” However, in recent weeks, circuit courts lifted three of the four nationwide injunctions against it, leaving only an order by a federal judge in New York standing.

Earlier in January, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to set aside the remaining nationwide injunction — a request that has now been granted. U.S. immigration officials will now be able to implement the new restrictions in every part of the country other than Illinois, where the rule is still blocked under a statewide injunction.

As for what the rule will do once impletemented, it allows US authorities to consider a broader spectrum of public assistance programs when determining whether legal immigrants seeking a green card are self-sufficient:

In the past, people have been at risk of being defined a “public charge” if they took cash welfare — known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or Supplemental Security Income — or federal help paying for long-term care. (Immigrants must be in the country legally for five years before being eligible for TANF or SSI.)

And that “public charge” designation could undermine their applications for permanent residence.

The new rule would expand the list to include some health insurance, food and housing programs. Specifically, it would penalize green-card applicants for using Medicaid, a federal-state health plan for low-income people…Using food stamps, Section 8 rental assistance and federal housing vouchers would also count against applicants.

Why have a public charge rule at all if things like food stamps and section 8 housing don’t count? But opponents of the charge rule argue that it is unconstitutional.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said Friday, “These legal violations are part of the Trump administration’s playbook which we are so familiar with. Today we … ask the federal court in the Northern District of California to block the administration from implementing this racially motivated rule and strike it down as unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Activists are also concerned that legal immigrants who are entitled to use these programs will drop out anyway, worried that using the programs will eventually be held against them:

DHS estimates that 2.5 percent of eligible immigrants would drop out of public benefits programs because of this change — which would tally about $1.5 billion worth of federal money per year. But others expect a much larger impact.

“The chilling effects will be vastly greater than the individuals directly affected,” Greenberg said. “There’s considerable reason to believe that [the White House estimate] may be a significant understatement.”

For now it appears this has been settled in the administration’s favor, but like most issues related to immigration, it will continue to be a hot-button issue. I think it’s a safe bet that this change to the public charge rule would quickly be reversed if a Democratic nominee were to win the 2020 election.