SCOTUS rules against bid to halt Trump’s ‘public charge’ rule amid pandemic

The U.S. Supreme Court has again weighed in on a challenge to the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule regarding immigrants and public benefits programs, siding with the administration once more, the Washington Examiner reported.

On Friday, the Supreme Court reaffirmed a prior 5–4 ruling that had placed a stay against an injunction imposed by a lower court and allowed the new rule to be implemented, rejecting an argument posed by three states and a city requesting that the stay be lifted or modified due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rule’s opponents cite coronavirus concerns

Led by the New York state attorney general, the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, as well as New York City itself, submitted a motion to the Supreme Court to lift or modify the stay it had imposed on injunctions intended to halt the implementation of the public charge rule, which renders green card immigrants ineligible for permanent legal status or citizenship if they are or are likely to become a “public charge” and burden the taxpayers by participating in federally-funded public benefits programs, according to the Examiner.

The plaintiffs argued that, because of the outbreak of COVID-19, some immigrants impacted by the new rule — which went into effect in late February — would be deterred from accessing necessary public health benefits if they were sick or other public benefits programs if they were laid off or unable to work.

“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 plaintiffs wrote.

They went on: “The Rule also deters access to public benefits, including nutrition benefits, that are critical for both immigrants and the country as a whole to weather the economic crisis triggered by COVID-19.”

Testing, treatment already excluded

However, in the government’s response to that motion, it was noted that the Department of Homeland Security had explicitly publicized a notice that coronavirus-related testing and treatment would not count against an immigrant in any determination of whether the “public charge” rule would apply to their case.

Furthermore, it had also been officially noted that the use of other public benefits — such as food stamps or unemployment compensation — due to job loss related to the pandemic would also likely be waived from consideration, albeit on a case by case basis.

As to the fact that some immigrants nevertheless felt deterred from participating in such programs even though it wouldn’t count against them, the government argued that the confusion they felt was due in large part to misinformation perpetuated by the plaintiffs themselves.

Battle rages on

The new iteration of the public charge rule was first announced in August 2019 and very quickly had multiple injunctions imposed against its implementation by district judges. Those orders were appealed with varying results at the circuit court level, requiring the Supreme Court to step in and settle the dispute.

It was in January that the Supreme Court first weighed in on the matter and issued a stay against nationwide injunctions blocking the rule. However, in February, a district judge in Chicago imposed an injunction against the rule that applied only to the state of Illinois, prompting the high court to again intervene and place a stay on that order as well, according to the Chicago Tribune.

With those stays in effect, the rule was then implemented by the administration in late February, only for the plaintiffs to now launch this new attack on the rule based on the coronavirus. Thankfully, the majority of justices were not swayed by the less than compelling arguments, and the rule will remain in effect pending a full hearing on the merits of the case at some point in the future.

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