Supreme Court allows Trump wealth test for immigrants

Ruling lifts temporary injunction that held back new policy

THE SUPREME COURT cleared the way for the Trump administration to begin enforcing new limits on immigrants who are considered likely to become dependent on government benefit programs, or “public charges.”

In a 5-4 vote, the court voted to lift a lower court injunction that had blocked the new rule from being put into effect. The court’s five conservative justices, including President Trump’s two appointees, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, joined in the majority opinion.

The Department of Homeland Security announced in August that it would expand the list of factors it would consider in judging whether those applying for permanent residency in the US might become dependent on government benefits like Medicaid.

There were several legal challenges from states seeking to block the new rule, and in October a federal district court judge in New York issued an injunction blocking any change in the policy while the lawsuits were pending.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy homeland security secretary, hailed the ruling,  “Self-sufficiency and self-reliance are key American values not to be litigiously dismissed, but to be encouraged and adopted by the next generation of immigrants,” he said in a statement. “We plan to fully implement this rule in 49 states and are confident we will win the case on the merits.” (The court ruling does not apply in Illinois, which is involved in separate litigation.)

An estimated 500,0000 noncitizens in Massachusetts could see their path to permanent residency cut off by the measure.

US Citizenship and Immigration Services said last summer that immigrants receiving an expanded list of public benefits will have that aid considered when the government determines whether anyone can enter or obtain permanent resident status in the US.

Under the rule change, immigrants will be denied green cards as a result of previous or current receipt of Medicaid benefits or food stamps. Most immigrants are not likely to receive economic assistance benefits like unemployment payments, but are currently eligible for some food, housing, and health insurance assistance. If Citizenship and Immigration Services deems that an applicant is likely to on public assistance in the future, that would also be grounds to deny legal status.

report issued by the Boston Foundation in June found the proposal could impact up to 510,000 immigrants in Massachusetts, including 160,000 children.

The Supreme Court ruling is “an incredible blow to hard-working immigrants seeking to bring family members to the USA,” said Mahsa Khanbabai, director of the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. ”Immigrants are not looking for handouts. They want the opportunity to work hard as so many generations of immigrants did before.”

Trump has previously said his administration is taking action to help ensure that non-citizens are self-sufficient and not a “strain on public resources.”

Immigration attorney Beverly Garcia said the changes will impact most of her clients, who are “run-of-the-mill working families.”

She said the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility has always existed to weed out people who could be dependent on long-term government aid. In the past, however, such concerns could be overcome by having a petitioner, usually a family member, vouch for the applicant and demonstrate sufficient income to support them financially.

The new public charge rule says this is no longer enough. “It’s awful. There’s a lot of confusion for how this new rule is going to be implemented,” Garcia said. “It’s triggering a chilling effect where people are even scared of getting aid for people in their household who have legal status.”

There is particular concern among advocates over how this will impact older immigrants applying for green cards, those with medical conditions, and disabled individuals.

According to Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, the public charge rule could cause 90,000 MassHealth enrollees, including 20,000 children, to lose their access to health care as families give up coverage to avoid jeopardizing their immigration status. She also estimated that as many as 60,000 enrollees in Connector Care, which subsidizes coverage for lower-income residents under 65 years old, may pull out of the program.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition sent out a message to members clarifying what Monday’s court ruling means.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The change does not impact naturalized US citizens, or those who already have their green cards, the group said. It also doesn’t apply to immigrants applying for asylum or for a green card as refugees. Immigrants with DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows young individuals with unlawful presence in the US to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation are also exempt, unless a family member has sponsored them for a green card.

“If you are applying for a green card, or plan to in the near future, the rule does apply to you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should disenroll yourself or your children from public programs,” said Marion Davis, head of communications for the organization.