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The Supreme Court Is Allowing The Trump Administration To Deny Green Cards To Immigrants Who Might Use Public Benefits

The government will now be able to deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believe are likely to use public benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid.

Posted on January 27, 2020, at 2:40 p.m. ET

Elliot Spagat / AP

People seeking asylum in the US wait at the border crossing bridge in Tijuana, Mexico, Jan. 8.

The Supreme Court on Monday granted the Trump administration’s request to enforce a sweeping policy that will allow the government to deny permanent residency to immigrants who officials believe are likely to use public benefits, such as food stamps, housing vouchers, and Medicaid.

The five conservative justices voted to allow the Trump administration to implement the “public charge” policy as a legal challenge continues in the federal courts. A federal judge in New York had instituted a nationwide injunction blocking the policy in October, just days after the Trump administration had hoped to roll it out.

“We are happy to see the Supreme Court step in the way they did here,” Ken Cuccinelli, second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security, said during a call with reporters Monday. “We very much appreciate it.”

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in his concurrence on the decision that the policy would be allowed to move forward: “Today the Court (rightly) grants a stay, allowing the government to pursue (for now) its policy everywhere save Illinois,” he wrote, explaining that a separate injunction was in place for the state of Illinois.

Immigration advocates and former officials said the decision would have massive implications.

“This is a fundamental rewrite of our legal immigration system without a single change in the law by Congress,” said Ur Jaddou, a former chief counsel for the US Citizenship and Immigration Services under the Obama administration.

Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, said the Supreme Court’s decision would allow a policy that will not only “unilaterally” change the face of immigration but “chill millions of immigrants and their US national family members from applying for or staying in enrolled in public benefits programs.”

USCIS will likely implement the policy in the upcoming days after being stopped from doing so in 2019.

The Immigration and Nationality Act has long allowed the government to reject granting permanent residency to immigrants who were determined to be a financial burden on society or a "public charge" — meaning they’re dependent on the government for financial support.

The new rule, however, alters how the government decides if someone is a public charge, allowing officials to deny green cards to those who have used or are determined to be likely to use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP food stamps), Section 8 housing vouchers and assistance, public housing, or most forms of Medicaid.

More than 4 million noncitizens were in families receiving SNAP benefits between 2014 and 2016, according to an analysis by the Migration Policy Institute. More than 39 million people were enrolled in the program in June 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture’s most recent statistics. It did not break out the numbers by immigration status.

"Long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed," Cuccinelli said in October.

But Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy analyst at the American Immigration Council, said the public charge rule breaks "the fundamental promise that America is a land of opportunity for all people, rich or poor."

"The United States was built by people with few resources who came to the United States with a strong desire to work hard," he said. "The public charge rule undermines that tradition."

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