States, Immigration Groups Urge Supreme Court to Not Intervene in ‘Public Charge’ Rule Appeal

January 23, 2020 Updated: January 23, 2020
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Three states and a group of immigration organizations have asked the Supreme Court to not intervene in cases regarding the implementation of a new “public charge” rule and instead let the cases play out in the courts.

The public charge rule, which was issued in 2019, provides clarification about what factors would be considered when determining whether someone is likely at any time in the future to become a public charge. A public charge refers to an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence through assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.

The rule will consider a person a public charge if they receive at least one government benefit for more than 12 months in a three-year period.

The rule was challenged in several states, leading to injunctions that prevented the rule from going into effect on Oct. 15, 2019. Two federal appeals courts—the 4th Circuit and the 9th Circuit—lifted similar injunctions last month. But the 2nd Circuit has refused to set aside a pair of injunctions issued by a New York District Court judge, prompting the Trump administration to file an emergency request (pdf) to the top court last week to lift those blocks.

In the New York cases, three states—New York, Connecticut, and Vermont—and a group of immigration organizations such as Make the Road New York sued the Trump administration, in separate cases, to stop the rule from taking effect.

The state officials and immigration groups argued in separate filings on Jan. 22 that the top court should not lift the injunctions because the Trump administration has not identified any reasons for the need to let the rule take effect immediately.

“Defendants have not claimed that a stay is needed for public safety, national security, or military effectiveness, let alone an emergency touching on any of these areas of concern,” the state officials argued in their filing (pdf).

They said that four circuit courts are currently expeditiously considering the appeals on their merits and will issue decisions in the next few months. They also said that the current immigration framework dealing with decisions surrounding public charges is lawful, and the courts should not disrupt the status quo.

“Granting a stay here would inject confusion and uncertainty into immigration decisions and plaintiffs’ administration of their public-benefits programs, and deter potentially millions of noncitizens residing in plaintiffs’ jurisdictions from accessing public benefits that they are legally entitled to obtain,” the state officials said.

They also said the expansion of the definition of “public charge” is unlawful because “it vastly exceeds the long-established understanding of that term, contrary to Congress’s intent to incorporate this consensus understanding into federal immigration law.”

The immigration groups made similar arguments in their own filing (pdf).

Meanwhile, the Trump administration stated in its filing on Jan. 13 that its request for a stay on the injunctions is appropriate because the Supreme Court is likely to take up the appeals from the 2nd Circuit, as two other appeals courts have already concluded that the rule will likely be upheld.

The administration said the “decisions by multiple courts of appeals have been rendered effectively meaningless within their own territorial jurisdictions because of a single district court’s nationwide injunctions, starkly illustrat[ing] the problems that such injunctions pose.”

The administration also said the injunctions “would result in effectively irreparable harm to the government.”

The U.S. House of Representatives has filed a motion (pdf) to submit a friend-of-the-court brief on Jan. 22 in support of the states and immigration groups. The House lawyers said in their accompanying brief that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “may not substitute its own policy judgment for Congress’s” with the new rule.

The brief stated, “When Congress reenacted the public-charge provision without material change in 1996, it legislated against the backdrop of a long-settled understanding of “public charge” as limited to noncitizens who primarily depend on the government over the long term.”

“Courts must presume that Congress intended to ratify that long-established meaning when it reenacted the provision without changing it.”

In a statement on Jan. 22, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that the DHS rule leaves the door open for discrimination and uncertainty.

“The Administration’s rule opens the door to unfettered and arbitrary discrimination, vast uncertainty and heightened confusion in our immigration and public assistance systems and therefore ‘would be impossible to apply rationally or fairly,’” she said.

“Under the Administration’s rule, an immigrant could conceivably be denied critical, life-saving benefits, based simply on language skills or perceived likelihood to one day participate in any assistance initiatives.”

The White House didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

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