The Supreme Court on Monday allowed the Trump administration to enforce its “public charge” restriction, a sweeping rule that would deny permanent residency or entry into the United States to certain immigrants considered likely to use government assistance.
The ruling could impact how immigrants and their families, particularly those that are considered low-income, potentially go about their lives without much-needed services available only through government programs.
The 5-4 vote by the court’s conservative majority reversed a lower court decision that kept it from being implemented while legal challenges in other states proceeded. The rule was published in August and would give the government more power to deny visas or green cards if it believes immigrants will rely on public assistance such as food stamps and taxpayer-funded health care benefits or housing programs.
It would make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain permanent residency if they have or are likely to use public benefits.
The Trump administration has defended the rule as a way to ensure immigrants remain financially self-sufficient. Critics say it is designed to limit the number of poor immigrants who enter the country.
The rule, announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in August, defines a “public charge” as an immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period.
Those benefits that would be designated included Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as well as most forms of Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.
The court’s liberal justices, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, would have blocked the regulation’s enforcement. Under previous administration’s only cash benefits were considered to determine whether an immigrant might be considered a “public charge”
The implementation of the rule could have a chilling effect on immigrant communities, with low-income immigrants most likely to be negatively impacted.
Many could be forced to drop much-needed public benefits for themselves and their families in an effort to not jeopardize their legal status in the U.S.
In a September report, the Kaiser Family Foundation said up to 4.7 million people could be forced to withdraw from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program if the rule were into effect, potentially putting the children’s health at risk.
A 2019 Urban Institute study found that people are already being deterred from applying for benefits for their U.S.-born children, fearing that it could harm their own immigration status. The study also found that 14 percent of nearly 2,000 adults who were born outside the U.S. or living with foreign-born family members have been dissuaded from participating in public benefit programs for fear it would impact their chances to obtain green cards, The Los Angeles Times reported last year.
Even before the rule was announced, agencies across the country reported declining enrollment in programs for pregnant women, children.
The rule does not penalize applicants for benefits received by a family member, like a child who is a citizen. But many are scared and need convincing.
The Times also found some parents had removed their children from special education programs out of fear.