The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Trump administration can move ahead with its “public charge” regulation that could block immigrants who wind up on the public dole from earning a pathway to citizenship.
It marks another significant victory for President Trump, giving him a tentative go-ahead on one of his key policies aimed at putting Americans’ needs first in the immigration system.
The 5-4 decision stays a lower court injunction, allowing U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to move ahead with examining would-be immigrants’ history of access to public programs such as food stamps, many forms of Medicaid, public housing assistance, welfare cash payments and Supplemental Security Income benefits.
If an officer believes immigrants haven’t proved they would be self-sufficient, their applications to adjust their status could be denied.
The White House cheered the decision, with press secretary Stephanie Grisham calling it “a massive win for American taxpayers, American workers and the American Constitution.”
Immigration activists were outraged.
“It helps advance the clear objective of the Trump administration’s white, nativist, xenophobic agenda: keep all immigrants out,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, who said the Supreme Court has ruled it’s OK to hurt children and families.
Lower courts had divided on the policy, with some blocking it and others allowing it to go into effect while court challenges proceeded.
The case that reached the high court came out of New York, where a judge appointed by President Carter issued a nationwide injunction, which was upheld by a circuit appeals court.
Yet two other appeals courts had allowed the Trump policy to go into effect, halting district court injunctions.
That complex web of rulings prompted Justice Neil M. Gorsuch to complain Monday that things have gotten out of hand, with district courts dictating policy for the entire nation.
He said it creates “gamesmanship and chaos” in the courts, with both sides strategizing to advance or defend positions in multiple courts.
“The rise of nationwide injunctions may just be a sign of our impatient times. But good judicial decisions are usually tempered by older virtues,” he wrote in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.
Dissenting Monday were the court’s four Democrat-appointed justices.
It’s not clear how much of an effect the Trump rule will actually have.
Studies have found a surprising number of immigrant families use welfare programs, though not all of those programs are part of the new public charge calculus.
But even the threat of the policy has scared some migrants from using welfare, according to a 2019 Urban Institute study.
“Families are already going hungry and people are avoiding needed medical care,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has battled Mr. Trump over a number of immigration stances.
Immigration activists said the public charge rule is likely to affect less-educated, poorer immigrants, who are more likely to take government help. They’re also more likely to be from poorer regions of the globe, such as Latin America, and denying them a path to citizenship could affect the demographics of future immigration.
Yet federal law has long recognized the government’s right to deny admission or more permanent status to foreigners who threaten to become a drain on public programs.
The previous policy was set by the Clinton administration, which recognized a smaller set of programs whose use would make someone a public charge.
The new policy adds more programs to the list.
USCIS said use of a program does not automatically disqualify someone but is a factor that the agency will look at.