Victory Against Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule

Published on August 05, 2020, 6:04 pm
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New York Attorney General Letitia James yesterday secured another major victory for immigrants across New York and the rest of the nation in her lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule. Attorney General James led a coalition — that includes three states and New York City — that today obtained a ruling from the the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholding a preliminary injunction against the rule that changed the established meaning of public charge.

“The Second Circuit has now recognized that the Trump Administration acted unlawfully in issuing its Public Charge Rule,” said Attorney General James. “The federal government’s change to this rule was wrong when it was first issued, long before the public health crisis that now plagues the nation. Unfortunately, the realities of the current pandemic underscore the importance of this fight, and we remain committed to delivering justice for New Yorkers and for our immigrant neighbors seeking to make a better life for themselves here.”

Today’s decision enjoined the Public Charge Rule in its entirety in the plaintiff states and localities (New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York City), upholding a decision issued by a trial court many months ago. Because the original injunction had been stayed by the Supreme Court, last week the trial court issued a second preliminary injunction against the Public Charge Rule, just for the duration of the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), finding that the rule was exacerbating the spread of the disease by deterring people from seeking needed health care.

Federal law allows lawful immigrants to apply for certain supplemental health and nutritional public benefits if they have been in the country for at least five years. But, last August, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Public Charge Rule that changed the established meaning of public charge, which had long been that immigrants who use basic, non-cash benefits are not considered public charges because they are not primarily dependent on the government for survival. This “bait-and-switch” consequently jeopardized immigrants’ chances of becoming legal permanent residents or renewing their visas if they used the supplemental benefits to which they are legally entitled.

In today’s order, the court held that the Public Charge Rule is likely contrary to the immigration law set by Congress and arbitrary and capricious. As the court noted: “Accepting help that is offered to elevate one to a higher standard of living, help that was created by Congress for that precise purpose, does not mean a person is not self-sufficient — particularly when such programs are available not just to persons living in abject poverty but to a broad swath of low- and moderate-income Americans, including those who are productively employed. DHS goes too far in assuming that all those who participate in non-cash benefits programs would be otherwise unable to meet their needs and that they can thus be categorically considered ‘public charges.’ Its unsupported and conclusory claim that receipt of such benefits indicates an inability to support oneself does not satisfy DHS’s obligation to explain its actions.”

Last August, days after the Trump Administration initially issued the Public Charge Rule, Attorney General James and a coalition of states and New York City filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration rule in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, noting that the rule specifically targets immigrants of color, immigrants with disabilities, and low-income immigrants, while putting these communities at risk, and would have short- and long-term impacts on public health and the economy.

The attorneys general of Connecticut and Vermont, as well as corporation counsel for New York City all joined Attorney General James in filing the motion for a preliminary injunction that was affirmed today.

This appeal was handled by Senior Assistant Solicitor General Judith N. Vale, Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu, and Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood.  The public charge matter is being handled by Deputy Bureau Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau Elena Goldstein, Civil Enforcement Section Chief of the Labor Bureau Ming-Qi Chu, and Assistant Attorneys General Abigail Rosner and Amanda Meyer, all under the supervision of Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo. The Division for Federal Initiatives is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

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