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“Public Charge” NOT in Effect and Public Benefits Still Safe to Use Across the U.S.

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In a split decision (2-1), a panel of three judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the new Donald Trump government public charge rule, which would allow the federal government to decide who can become a green card holder based on what public benefits immigrants have used, along with other factors, like health, family size, education, and English proficiency.

While the decision gives the Trump administration an important victory, the measure cannot come into effect because there are two current rulings that belong to jurisdictions other than those of the 9th Circuit of Appeals.

In October 2019, the U.S. District Courts for the Southern District of New York, Northern District of California, Eastern District of Washington, Northern District of Illinois, and the District of Maryland ordered that The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could not implement the final rule on the public charge until there is final resolution in the cases.

“Quite simply, under this rule, more children will go hungry, more families will go without medical care and more people will be living in the shadows and on the streets. We cannot and we will not let that happen,” said New York’s Attorney General Letitia James.

This new ruling voids prohibitions issued by federal judges of Oakland (California) and Spokane (Washington). But for now, the DHS remains bound by injunctions issued in cases pending before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, who were not affected by the judgment of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and thus prevent USCIS from implementing and enforcing the rule anywhere in the United States.

According to the USCIS website,  “public charge” refers to an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” thus becoming a financial burden on the country due to illness, poverty, etc.  Age, health, family status, financial resources, and education are some of the factors taken into consideration when looking to deem a prospective immigrant as a public charge to the state. The term also applies for any immigrant the has been living in the U.S. and has received at least one public benefit, including Medicaid, food stamps, welfare or public housing vouchers, for more than 12 months within any three-year period.  People who are labeled by a USCIS as “public charge” are deemed inadmissible to the U.S. 

“Since 1882, when the Congress enacted the first comprehensive immigration statute, U.S. law has prohibited the admission to the United States of ‘any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge,’” wrote Judge Jay Bybee in the ruling.

“We find that the history of the use of ‘public charge’ in federal immigration law demonstrates that ‘public charge’ does not have a fixed, unambiguous meaning,”  he added. “Rather, the phrase is subject to multiple interpretations, it, in fact, has been interpreted differently, and the Executive Branch has been afforded the discretion to interpret it.” 

For his part, Judge Bybee wrote an afterthought on the case ruling which he described his “personal opinion”, where he admitted that due to the increase in emergency petitions arising out of the administration’s efforts to administer tougher immigration laws, the state’s efforts to deal with the situation have been met with mixed success in both his and the Supreme Court. 

“In the immigration context, whatever dialogue we have been having with the administration over its policies, we are a poor conversant,” Bybee wrote. “We are limited in what we can say and in our ability—even if anyone thought we were qualified to do so—to shape our immigration policies. We lack the tools of inquiry, investigation, and fact-finding that a responsible policymaker should have at its disposal.”

Read Revolution English’s previous reports on Public Charge:

States Fight Back to Protect Immigrants

Injunction Time: New York Court Stops “Public Charge” Rule from Going into Effect Next Tuesday

Cities and Educators Reassure Immigrant Students and Families

Senadores Demócratas Introducen una Ley que Busca Bloquear la Regla de “Carga Pública” de la Administración Trump

Alexandra Tirado Oropeza is a Venezuelan journalist covering politics, immigration, entertainment and social justice. She moved to the U.S. in 2014 to pursue a Writing degree at The University of Tampa, and after graduating, she moved to Los Angeles where she works in broadcast and as a freelance writer. She’s passionate about equality, freedom of speech, art and dogs.