Supreme Court Agrees to Dismiss Case Challenging Trump-Era Public Charge Rule

March 9, 2021 Updated: March 10, 2021

The Supreme Court has agreed to a request by the Biden administration to dismiss an upcoming case challenging a public-charge rule that requires prospective immigrants to be able to support themselves financially.

The court last month agreed to hear the federal government’s appeal of a lower court decision against the Trump-era immigration rule that restricts the eligibility of new immigrants who are deemed to likely become “public charges” if they receive visas.

The Justice Department informed the court in a filing (pdf) on March 9 that all parties agreed to ask the court to dismiss the case, signaling that the White House is likely to overturn the rule. In early February, President Joe Biden had issued an executive order mandating a review of the public charge rule that aims to assess the effects and implications of such policies.

A “public charge” refers to an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, by receiving assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid.

The case stemmed from a rule adopted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2019 that expanded the definition of “public charges” in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). That rule required the DHS to consider cash benefits and certain non-cash benefits when determining an immigrant’s admissibility in the United States.

Meanwhile, the rule considered 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 by states, cities, and advocacy groups around the country, and had resulted in several preliminary injunctions to block its enforcement while the cases played out in court. Some of those injunctions were lifted by the appeals court, while a pair of injunctions issued by a New York district court judge were lifted by the Supreme Court pending a ruling from an appeals court.

The appeals court in that case, cited as U.S. Department of Homeland Security v. New York, affirmed the preliminary injunction issued by the district court but restricted its application to states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. This ruling prompted the Trump administration to file a request—or a petition for a writ of certiorari (pdf)—to the top court asking it to review the appeals court decision.

The respondents in the case include the states of New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York City, as well as immigrant advocacy groups including Make the Road New York and Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.

At the time when the rule was introduced, Ken Cuccinelli, then-acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that the rule was critical because the administration wanted to “see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient.”

“That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration,” he said.

Meanwhile, opponents of the rule say it discourages immigrants and their families from accessing necessities such as health, food, and housing programs that supplement their wages and “help them make ends meet.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Jan. 22, 2020, that the rule leaves the door open for discrimination and uncertainty.

The Biden administration has taken similar steps in several other immigration cases. In February, the administration asked the top court to cancel oral arguments in two cases separately challenging former President Donald Trump’s border wall and “remain in Mexico” policies.

The requests come after the administration took action to undo both policies, possibly rendering the challenges moot.

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