Supreme Court Decision Allows Trump Administration to Make It Harder For Poor Immigrants To Obtain Green Cards

Supermajority Education Fund

January 29, 2020

On Jan. 27, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote to allow the Trump administration to go forward with its expanded “public charge” rule. In an opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court stated that the administration could deny green cards to immigrants who might need to use public benefits.

Before the Trump administration’s expansion, the public charge rule counted only cash benefits, like Supplemental Security Income from Social Security, in the updated regulations put into place in 1996. In August, the Trump administration released their final changes to this rule, which amounted to denying poor immigrants access to a wider array of government benefit programs. Three states put preliminary injunctions in place in October, blocking the program from going forward. But now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision, officials can deny lawful permanent status (better known as green cards) to immigrants who are believed to need public assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps, or Section 8 housing vouchers. According to CNN, the rule will be “subject to the discretion of the officer” evaluating an immigrant’s application. 

“We have been fighting to see that this rule never goes into effect, but now that it is, if even for a brief time, it is critical that immigrants and their families making decisions about using public benefits consult legal advocates who understand the Rule before assuming it applies to them,” The Legal Aid Society Civil Practice Law Reform Unit staff attorney Susan Welber said in a statement to Supermajority News.

Expanding to include non-cash benefits like food benefits can further silo immigrants who cannot work full-time or whose full-time work doesn’t add up to a living wage. Claudia Center, ACLU staff attorney for the Disability Rights Program, said this rule will further stigmatize immigrants. “It enshrines the false stereotype that people with disabilities do not contribute to our society. Families will suffer. Congress has repeatedly declared that disability discrimination violates federal law,” Center said in a statement to Supermajority News. “This rule must be stopped.”

One of the public benefits included in the expansion is Medicaid, which provides healthcare to the poor. Planned Parenthood Acting President and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson called the policy disturbing. “This policy will harm immigrants’ abilities to protect themselves and their families, driving more and more people into the shadows,” she said in a statement to reporters. “At Planned Parenthood, we believe that health care has no borders and that no one’s health or safety should be at risk because of their immigration status.”

Read the full opinion from the Supreme Court here.

Update, Feb. 24: On Friday, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to move forward with plans to deny green cards to immigrants who are thought to be likely to become “public charges” in another limited injunction that applied to Illinois.