A federal judge halted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from implementing its controversial “public charge” rule, a policy change that advocacy groups assert would have disproportionately blocked immigrants of color from obtaining permanent resident status and inhibited immigrant workers and foreign students from extending or changing their visa status.
U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York issued the order on October 11, just days before it was set to go into effect on October 15. In his 24-page opinion, Daniels wrote that the idea of making it more difficult for immigrants using public services to receive green cards is “repugnant to the American Dream.” His ruling was followed by similar rulings in cases in Washington and California.
The ruling, in State of New York, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security, et al., came after an amicus brief in support of the injunction was filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), Advancing Justice | AAJC (Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC), and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), along with pro bono counsel Crowell & Moring. The amicus briefs said that the public charge rule is motivated by racial animus and targeted specific segments of the population — specifically immigrants, women, and children from communities of color. “The revision to the public charge rule appears to be another vehicle through which this Administration endeavors to effectuate its “‘wider strategic goal’ on immigration,” proffering a pretextual justification in order to veil its discriminatory intent” the groups wrote, i.e. it is a rule essentially designed to allow only the wealthy and/or white immigrants into this country. The original public charge test has its roots in xenophobia and racial bias, as it was enacted in the same era as the discriminatory and racially motivated Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which sought to keep Asian immigrants from coming to the U.S. Nonetheless, a “public charge” has been historically interpreted narrowly to those who were primarily dependent on the government.
The DHS rule would have dramatically changed the way the federal government evaluates whether an individual is considered to be a public charge and would have counted receipt of public benefits such as non-emergency Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and subsidized housing against individuals as part of the immigration process. The rule also penalizes senior and low-income immigrants by imposing an unprecedented test that will consider factors such as age, English language proficiency, and access to private health insurance in assessing who may be “likely” to use public benefits.
The amicus brief filed by the advocacy organizations highlighted the racial animus that led to the public charge rule and the negative impacts its implementation would have on minority communities, specifically Asian American immigrants and women. The rule states that immigrants found to be relying on public benefits, or those likely to do so in the future, would be ineligible to become permanent residents or change or extend their nonimmigrant visa status in the U.S.
Annie J. Wang, Director of Immigrant Justice Project, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), said: “AALDEF was heartened by the court’s decision, which found that the DHS failed to provide a rational basis for redefining the concept of public charge. We agree with Judge Daniels’ characterization of the DHS rule as ‘simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification.’”
John C. Yang, president and executive director, Advancing Justice | AAJC said: ”The court’s decision was welcomed news to so many in our community who have been concerned about this dramatic policy change. Our country should not be promoting immigration policies that permit discrimination and instead be focused on prioritizing accessible pathways to U.S. citizenship so immigrants can thrive.”
Amy K. Matsui, Director of Income Security & Senior Counsel, National Women’s Law Center, said: “NWLC is relieved that federal courts around the country have blocked this mean-spirited and discriminatory rule from taking effect.”
For more information, contact:
Annie Wang, Immigrant Justice Project Director