In a narrow 5-4 decision Jan. 27, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could immediately implement its “public charge” rule, which denies immigration benefits to low-income people.
The public charge rule — which was finalized Aug. 12, 2019 — was scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15 last year, but three court injunctions blocked its implementation. The Supreme Court decision, which did not determine the merits of the rule, now allows the public charge rule to be implemented throughout the country — with the exception of Illinois, which has a state injunction in place — and at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world.
The rule would potentially deny green cards to one million immigrants each year who are currently living in the U.S. and have received any of several forms of federal public aid, including food stamps — a program known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP — Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2qd9r67)
Those wishing to immigrate to the U.S. would have to be able to demonstrate an earning capacity of at least $41,000 for a family of two. The new rule would greatly impact Indian American immigrant families: seven percent live at or below federal poverty levels.
The rule would largely bar elderly Indian immigrants who wish to immigrate to the U.S. to live with their children. Immigration advocates have noted that elderly people are unlikely to be able to demonstrate an earning capacity of any amount. The household incomes of their Indian American children are unlikely to be considered, as they would not yet technically be members of the household.
Factors such as age, disabilities, the ability to speak English, and employability would also be considered.
“It is unfortunate that the Supreme Court — once again — chose to rubberstamp Trump’s anti-immigration policies,” Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, told India-West. “This is going to have a tremendous impact on the immigrant community as people avoid applying for programs which could benefit them,” said the Indian American racial justice advocate.
She noted that immigrants are already avoiding services that might label them low-income. “We don’t know how broad or narrow the test will be.”
Anti-public charge activists have labeled the rule a “wealth test.”
Newark, California-based immigration attorney Kalpana Peddibhotla told India-West that the rule “has created such an ambiguity about what evidence is sufficient to determine whether someone will eventually become a public charge.”
“It gives too much discretion to adjudicators who may be looking to deny petitions,” said the Indian American attorney.
California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press statement that the effects of the Supreme Court’s decision on the public charge rule would be “devastating,” and echoed Kulkarni’s concerns that immigrant families are avoiding needed medical care and “going hungry.”
Last August, California sued the Trump administration, stating that the public charge rule was illegal. Newsom said the state was looking into “next steps.”
“California will continue to fight against efforts that terrorize immigrant families,” he said.
“We are disappointed that the Supreme Court is permitting the public charge rule to move forward. The public charge rule is antithetical to who we are as a country and targets, primarily, hard-working immigrant families of color,” said Juliet K. Choi, executive vice president of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.
Choi noted that immigrants are already disenrolling themselves from health programs, and cited a Kaiser Family Foundation study that determined that about half of community health centers reported people declining or cancelling coverage because of the rule.
The Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus also decried the Supreme Court decision, stating: “The Supreme Court’s decision to implement the Trump administration’s public charge rule is a direct attack on our immigrant communities. It is a blatant effort to transform our immigration system into one that favors the privileged and disregards the principles that have long guided our nation’s stated values.”
The White House, however, hailed the Supreme Court decision. “Today’s stay from the Supreme Court is a massive win for American taxpayers, American workers, and the American Constitution.”
“This decision allows the government to implement regulations effectuating longstanding Federal law that newcomers to this country must be financially self-sufficient and not a ‘public charge’ on our country and its citizens,” said the administration in a press statement.