Justices Allow Enforcement of ‘Public Charge’ Immigration Rule

Hundreds of people stand outside a U.S. immigration office in San Francisco on Jan. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a Trump administration rule to take effect that would make it harder for immigrants to receive green cards if they rely on public benefits programs like food stamps.

Monday’s order lifts an injunction a federal judge in New York issued blocking the rule from taking effect anywhere in the country. The stay will allow the rule to go into effect while the legal challenges continue through the courts.

The Trump administration announced the rule in August, clarifying how it would interpret a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes people likely to become “a public charge” ineligible for green cards.

The new rule sweeps into that definition people who participate in food stamps, Medicaid and a host of other public benefit programs, with limited exceptions for certain classes of people. If an immigration official finds a prospective green card recipient participates, or is likely to participate, in such a program in the future, they are to weigh that heavily against granting permanent resident status.

The rule marks a significant tightening of the public charge standard, which has historically applied to people who are mostly reliant on government programs, not all people who use them.

A host of states, immigrant rights groups and individuals have challenged the rule in courts across the country, with mixed results.

At issue in the Supreme Court’s ruling Monday is an injunction a federal judge in New York granted in October, just days before the rule was to take effect. The Second Circuit kept the injunction in place earlier this month.

The 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court on Monday split along ideological lines, with the conservative majority agreeing to a stay while the liberal wing of the court would have denied it.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, resumed a long-running quest for the court to weigh in on the type of injunction the judge in the New York case granted, which applies across the country rather than just to those involved a specific lawsuit.

Conservatives have criticized the use of such injunctions, arguing they give too much power to individual federal district court judges and rush cases through the appeals process without fully developed records.

Gorsuch echoed these concerns in a five-page concurring opinion Monday, saying nationwide injunctions cut against good judging and that the prospect of blocking a government action across the entire country encourages parties to carefully search for a friendly ear to hear their suits.

“The rise of nationwide injunctions may just be a sign of our impatient times,” Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first Supreme Court appointee, wrote.  “But good judicial decisions are usually tempered by older virtues.”

The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

New York Attorney General Letitia James – whose office is leading the litigation on behalf of Connecticut, Vermont and New York City – called the Trump administration’s rule “an egregious attempt to infringe upon the values of our nation.”

“We have already received a favorable decision in the district court and are continuing our fight against the Trump administration in the court of appeals,” James said in a statement. “We remain committed to fighting against this misguided rule and will continue to pursue every legal tool available to permanently stop it.”

Ghita Schwarz, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights representing a collection of immigrant groups challenging the rule, said the ruling is a temporary setback amid ongoing litigation.

“The court’s decision to lift the injunction is very disappointing, but our challenge to the draconian public charge rule is still moving forward,” Schwarz said in a statement. “The district court’s decision to stop this unlawful rule from taking effect was based on ample evidence of the harm that it will cause to immigrant communities and we look forward to defending the injunction in the Second Circuit.”

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