On Wednesday, July 29, 2020, New York U.S. District Judge George Daniels blocked the Trump Administration’s new “public charge” immigration restriction. The Judge’s ruling was based on how the Administration’s new rule prevents some immigrants access to critical COVID-19 services.

 

Public charge is a test applied to immigrants who the government believes will rely on public assistance based on the use of certain human services. In August 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that they would expand the definition of who would be considered a “public charge” to ensure immigrants would not depend on the government for their income. The Administration could deny entrance or permission to work to immigrants if they have made use of benefits programs such as Medicaid, SNAP, or public housing, and would exclude immigrants with low incomes. Even the threat of this policy has caused many immigrant families to stop making use of benefits despite their eligibility for them, for fear they will lose legal status. The public charge rule was set to take effect on October 15, 2019, before several federal judges in California, Maryland, and New York, entered injunctions blocking it, but in January of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court gave the go-ahead.

 

Judge Daniels said that the states and nonprofits challenging the rule had provided “ample evidence” that the policy deters immigrants from seeking COVID-19 testing and threatens efforts to combat the virus. Judge Daniels wrote:

 

 “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…” 

 

On Monday, January 21, 2020, the Supreme Court Justices had voted 5-4 to allow the Trump Administration to start enforcing a rule. The Supreme Court’s decision was temporary as lawsuits in the lower courts over the “public charge” rule continued across the country. Before this week’s ruling, the Administration denied immigrants entrance or permission to work if they were considered low income or dependent on public assistance.

 

Judge Daniels’ ruling held that his ruling should apply nationwide. 

He also issued another ruling barring the State Department from applying the public charge criteria to green card applicants abroad. The Judge said in his ruling that the Supreme Court ruling issued earlier this year was before the spread of COVID-19, so it did not take into consideration its impact.

 

Even the threat of this policy has caused many immigrant families to stop making use of benefits despite their eligibility for them, for fear they will lose legal status. CWLA submitted comments against the rule. “We see this proposed rule as creating barriers for families who are immigrants and their children,” stated CWLA CEO and President Christine James-Brown. She also said, “As we pointed out in our 2018 agenda to the Administration, policies that may restrict access to human services that target some of these families including documented immigrants will only increase stress on the families and the children.” 

CWLA submitted comments in December, click here to read the comments.

 

About the Author:

John Sciamanna is CWLA's Vice President of Public Policy.

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