One of the Trump administration’s top priorities has been to dismantle the family-based system for immigration. The administration has argued that the U.S. should deny “green cards” (permanent residence) to individuals it deems might become future “Public Charges.” The rule, called “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” raises the acceptable thresholds for income, savings, and English language ability. While not explicitly racist, the proposed rule is inherently biased against low-income, Latinx, Black, Asian, and disabled immigrants because the people who would not meet these thresholds are disproportionately represented by very specific minority communities.
The rule has engendered fear in immigrant communities and led many immigrants to disenroll from medical, housing, and nutritional benefits that have historically been available to green card holders. For this, and other reasons, a collection of nonprofits and immigrant advocacy organizations, including Make the Road New York, African Services Committee, Asian American Federation, Catholic Charities Community Services, and Catholic Legal Immigration Network partnered as plaintiffs to file a court case that sought to stop the rule from taking effect as scheduled on Tuesday, October 15th, 2019.
On Friday, October 11, 2019, according to CBS News, “Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan issued a preliminary nationwide injunction prohibiting the administration from enforcing the so-called “public charge” rule just days before it was slated to take effect…” Two other courts, one in Washington state, and the other in San Francisco, also issued rulings that rebuke the Trump administration’s Public Charge rule in different ways.
If the administration succeeds in fighting the courts and implementing the rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) case workers would make an assessment about whether or not they think a potential immigrant might use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, “EBT” or “Food Stamps”), Federal Public Housing and Section 8 assistance, Medicaid (except for emergency services, children under 21 years, pregnant women, and new mothers), and cash assistance programs (like SSI, TANF, General Assistance). If the officer were to conclude that the immigrant might use one of these benefits for 12 months or longer over three years, the officer would deem the immigrant a “public charge” and deny the application. For more information on how the Public Charge rule could impact access to public benefits legal immigrants, see Amanda Keller’s recent article on Revolution English about USCIS guidelines for “Sponsors of Aliens.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA or the Act) renders inadmissible and therefore (1) ineligible for a visa, (2) ineligible for admission and (3) ineligible for adjustment of status, any alien  who, in the opinion of the DHS (or the Departments of State (DOS) or Justice (DOJ), as applicable), is likely at any time to become a public charge.” In other words, the new rules would apply to many current and prospective immigrants already in the U.S., as well as people applying for a visa, and “aliens” entering the U.S. at one of its ports of entry.
Mr. Ken Cucinelli, who was a named defendant in the Make the Road New York v. Cuccinelli case that was ruled on last Friday, was appointed by Mr. Trump to be the top official at USCIS. Mr. Cucinelli made it clear that the Trump administration is likely to fight the injunction, saying after the ruling, “an objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law.”
For now, however, Judge Daniels’ ruling will effectively block the Trump administration’s public charge rule that was set to take effect on October 15th. Make the Road New York, African Services Committee, Asian American Federation, Catholic Charities Community Services, Catholic Legal Immigration, and others who serve and advocate on behalf of immigrants and refugees are breathing a collective sigh of relief, and basking in their victory. At least until tomorrow.