A Judge Blocked Trump’s “Public Charge” Policy On Immigrants During The Pandemic
“As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status,” the judge wrote.
Posted on July 29, 2020, at 6:21 p.m. ET
David Goldman / AP
People line up at a food distribution site in Chelsea, Massachusetts, which has a large immigrant population hit hard by the coronavirus, July 10.
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A federal judge in New York on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing a policy during the coronavirus pandemic that allows the government to deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believe are likely to use public benefits.
The ruling, issued by US District Judge George Daniels, is the latest in the back-and-forth legal saga over the “public charge” policy.
“Doctors and other medical personnel, state and local officials, and staff at nonprofit organizations have all witnessed immigrants refusing to enroll in Medicaid or other public funded health coverage, or forgoing testing and treatment for COVID-19, out of fear that accepting such insurance or care will increase their risk of being labeled a public charge,” Daniels wrote in his ruling. “As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status.”
Daniels said the block is in effect for any period during which there is a “national health emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”
The New York attorney general’s office had gone to the Supreme Court in April with a request to block the public charge rule in light of the pandemic. The request, which was denied, came several months after the conservative Supreme Court justices voted to allow the Trump administration to implement the policy as a legal challenge continued in the federal courts.
“We secured an injunction to block the Public Charge rule from taking effect during the #COVID19 pandemic and while our legal challenge is pending,” New York Attorney General Letitia James tweeted. “This is a major victory to protect the health of our communities across New York and the entire nation.”
The Immigration and Nationality Act has long allowed the government to reject granting permanent residency to immigrants who were determined to be a financial burden on society, or a public charge, meaning they’re dependent on the government for financial support.
The Trump administration’s rule, however, altered how the government decides if someone is a public charge, allowing officials to deny green cards to those who are determined likely to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing vouchers and assistance, public housing, or most forms of Medicaid. Experts have said that the policy will change the face of immigration and discourage people from seeking public benefits.
The policy was implemented in late February.
The effects on COVID-19 prevention due to the public charge rule are not speculative or hypothetical, the attorneys argued, citing multiple declarations from doctors, attorneys, and community advocates.
NY Judge Blocks ‘Public Charge’ Rule During Pandemic
Law360 (July 29, 2020, 5:32 PM EDT) — A New York federal judge on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration from implementing its controversial wealth test for immigrants during the national health emergency stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
A New York federal judge on Wednesday blocked the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which allows the government to deny green cards to immigrants found likely to need public benefits, from going into effect during the coronavirus crisis. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
U.S. District Judge George Daniels said that the states and nonprofits challenging the so-called public charge rule, which would allow the government to deny green cards to immigrants found likely to need public benefits, had provided “ample evidence” that the policy deters immigrants from seeking COVID-19 testing and could threaten efforts to curb the spread of the disease.
“As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing public health and personal safety or their immigration status,” Judge Daniels wrote.
The judge also found that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services‘ efforts to address these concerns were “plainly insufficient.” The agency’s alert informing immigrants that any testing or treatment for coronavirus would not be counted against them is ambiguous and “further adds chaos and confusion,” Judge Daniels said.
And while the challenge was brought by New York, Connecticut and Vermont, Judge Daniels held that the immigration rule should be halted nationwide.
“The effect of the rule’s application should not depend on what side of the George Washington bridge between New York and New Jersey one fortuitously finds oneself,” he said.
In a second Wednesday ruling, Judge Daniels also temporarily barred the U.S. Department of State from applying the public charge criteria to green card applicants abroad, after advocacy groups challenged those restrictions in December.
The rulings mark a major victory for the New York-led state coalition and immigrant advocacy groups, which renewed their efforts in a pair of combined cases to block the immigration rule as confirmed cases of COVID-19 rose in the U.S.
“Immigrants have been on the front lines fighting this pandemic from the start, and today’s injunction will ensure they are not targeted for obtaining health coverage or other vital services as they continue to battle COVID-19,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement.
A USCIS spokesperson said in a statement on Thursday that it is “currently reviewing the court’s decision.”
“USCIS will fully comply with the court’s order and will be providing additional guidance,” the spokesperson continued.
Critics of the rule have argued since it was first issued in August 2019 that it will discourage immigrants and mixed-status households from seeking out health care services for fear of immigration repercussions, threatening public health as a result.
Five federal judges, including Judge Daniels, have found that the public charge rule is likely illegal. Judge Daniels went so far as to call it “repugnant to the American Dream.”
But early this year, as those legal battles waged on, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the Trump administration the green light to implement the immigration rule across the country while those legal challenges to the policy continued.
USCIS has enforced the rule in all 50 states since February, allowing the agency to evaluate a green card applicant’s past usage of public assistance programs including food stamps and housing subsidies, as well as other factors such as age and health to determine whether the immigrant will likely become a “public charge” in the future.
When the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S., New York and New York City, Connecticut and Vermont urged the high court to revisit the issue in light of the ongoing health threat. The justices declined to lift their stay on Judge Daniels’ injunction in a brief order in April and punted the issue back to Judge Daniels’ court.
If the federal government decides to appeal Judge Daniels’ Wednesday order, it could pave the way for the justices to review the rule a third time.
Judge Daniels said Wednesday that while he is mindful of the Supreme Court’s decision to permit implementation of the rule while lawsuits progressed, the high court did not have the opportunity to consider the effects of the coronavirus pandemic when it made that decision.
In the months since the Supreme Court paused his initial ruling against the public charge rule, the “irreparable harm and public interests that warrant an injunction have come into sharper focus,” Judge Daniels said.
“What were previously theoretical harms have proven to be true. We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in real time,” he wrote. “Equitable relief has become nothing short of critical.”
Javier H. Valdés, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, one of the organizations that challenged the rule at the lower court, said in a statement Wednesday that the public charge rule has “caused immense harm to our communities — harm that intensified, as our country is in the midst of a health crisis.”
“We applaud the court’s decision and will continue to fight to stop the Trump administration’s reckless and inhumane attacks on immigrants,” he said.
A State Department spokesperson declined to comment.
The state coalition is represented by the attorneys general of New York, Vermont and Connecticut and Corporation Counsel of the City of New York.
The federal government is represented by Keri L. Berman of the U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Division.
The cases are State of New York et al. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al., case number 1:19-cv-07777, Make the Road New York et al v. Cuccinelli et al, case number 1:19-cv-07993, and Make the Road New York et al v. Pompeo et al, case number 1:19-cv-11633, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
–Editing by Alanna Weissman.
Update: This story has been updated with more details from the rulings and with comments from the parties.
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