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7th Circuit upholds end of Trump-era immigration rule

The circuit’s decision leaves the door open for future challenges intended to keep the “public charge rule” alive.

CHICAGO (CN) — The Seventh Circuit upheld a court ruling Monday that stopped a challenge to reinstate a Trump-era immigration rule that made it harder for immigrants to obtain residency.

The “public charge rule,” expanded in 2019 by former President Trump, made it more difficult for noncitizens to obtain residency if they would rely on public benefits such as food stamps, many forms of Medicaid or received housing assistance.

Several states challenged the rule change, and it was officially ended in 2021 after President Joe Biden took office. Later last year, a federal court in Illinois tossed an attempt by 14 other states to intervene in the case.

The group of states appealed this denial, which culminated in a hearing before the Seventh Circuit this April. In its Monday ruling, the circuit court sided with the lower court’s decision.

Judge Diane Wood penned the unanimous 32-page ruling and found that the group of states’ wish to intervene and reinstate the rule was no longer timely now that the rule had been abandoned by the Biden Administration.

“Put simply, the writing had long been on the wall that the federal government was likely to abandon its defense of the 2019 rule. We therefore find that the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the May 2021 motions to intervene were untimely,” wrote Wood, a Clinton appointee.

The states seeking to intervene and bring back the immigration rule were Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Ilana Rovner, a George H.W. Bush appointee, and Trump appointee Amy St. Eve agreed with Wood that the case was not moot even though the rule had been revoked by the Biden administration.

“Before turning to the central issue on appeal — the right of the states to intervene — we comment briefly on why we do not regard the entire case as moot. It may seem that the states are beating a dead horse, but that isn’t entirely true. In fact, they are seeking an opportunity to breathe life back into this case, and ultimately to resuscitate the 2019 Rule,” Wood wrote.

However, despite finding that the appeal had merits, the three-judge panel concluded that the motions to intervene were untimely for several reasons. Chief among them was the delay of more than two months between the moment it was known that Biden was considering dismissing the appeal and the states’ intervention.

Despite the unfavorable ruling, the Seventh Circuit ruling did not leave the states without recourse, finding that while they agreed with the lower court about timeliness, the states could bring a challenge to the rule’s repeal under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

“We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in that respect. That is enough to resolve the remainder of the issues that are properly before us. If the states wish to challenge the repeal of the 2019 rule under the APA, we can confirm that nothing we say here will prevent them from trying to do so in a fresh legal proceeding,” Wood wrote.

The original lawsuit challenging the rule was filed by Cook County, Illinois, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

“We are pleased with the ruling,” said Caroline Chapman, an attorney who represented the ICIRR during the litigation.

Chapman declined to comment about the possibility of a future lawsuit from the intervening states.

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