Supreme Court Declines to Block Trump’s ‘Public Charge’ Rule for Immigrants

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Responding to a request from states and immigration advocates citing the coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court on Friday declined to block a Trump administration rule that makes it harder for immigrants to receive green cards if they rely on public benefits programs like food stamps.

The Supreme Court in January temporarily lifted an injunction issued by a federal judge in New York against the Trump administration’s so-called public charge rule, which broadened the reach of a provision of federal immigration law that makes people ineligible for a green card if they are deemed likely to become a “public charge.”

Under the new rule, if an immigration official finds a prospective green card recipient participates, or is likely to participate, in a host of public benefit programs like food stamps and Medicaid, they are to weigh it heavily against granting permanent resident status.

In February, the court similarly lifted a more narrow injunction issued by a federal judge in Illinois.

Last week, the states and groups challenging the public charge rule asked the justices to reconsider the decision in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, saying the public charge rule makes efforts to respond to the outbreak more difficult.

“By deterring immigrants from accessing publicly funded healthcare, including programs that would enable immigrants to obtain testing and treatment for COVID-19, the rule makes it more likely that immigrants will suffer serious illness if infected and spread the virus inadvertently to others — risks that are heightened because immigrants make up a large proportion of the essential workers who continue to interact with the public,” the states wrote in a motion filed with the high court.

New York Attorney General Letitia James presented examples in the petition of people who would be affected by the rule.

“A physician in Connecticut has spoken with patients who had symptoms consistent with Covid-19, but were afraid to obtain Covid-19 testing or seek treatment due to concerns about the Public Charge Rule and fears that they could not afford to pay for treatment,” James wrote.

In response, the Trump administration said lifting the stay would be unprecedented and unnecessary, considering the administration has already said the use of public benefit programs for care related to the coronavirus will not factor into a public charge determination.

“In light of that guidance, the executive branch has determined that a wholesale suspension of the rule is unwarranted,” the administration’s brief states. “Nothing in the motion or in the accompanying new declarations provides any basis for this court to second-guess that policy judgment.”

James said the state will soon ask the federal judge in New York City who is hearing the case to block the rule in light of the outbreak.

“The public charge rule threatens the public’s health, our economy and all New Yorkers — citizens and non-citizens alike,” James said in a statement. “Every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow.”

The court did not explain its reasons for denying the request to reinstate the injunctions.

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