In January, the Supreme Court – by a vote of 5-4 – granted a request by the Trump administration for permission to enforce the “public charge” rule governing the admission of immigrants to the United States while it appeals a pair of orders by a federal district court in New York. Today, a group of state and local governments challenging the rule, led by New York, asked the Supreme Court to temporarily block the government from implementing the rule until the COVID-19 crisis is over. The challengers argued that the rule is “impeding efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, preserve scarce hospital capacity and medical supplies, and protect the lives of everyone in our communities—citizens and noncitizens alike.”
The public charge rule interprets a provision of federal immigration law that bars noncitizens from receiving a green card if the government believes that they are likely to become reliant on government assistance. In August 2019, the Trump administration defined “public charge” to refer to noncitizens who receive a variety of government benefits – such as cash, health care or housing – for more than 12 months over a three-year period. Under the rule, the government also considers factors such as age, employment history and finances to determine whether someone might become a “public charge” in the future.
In their 27-page filing today, the challengers told the justices that the public charge rule has grave implications for public health during the COVID-19 crisis, because it deters immigrants – who fear that it will jeopardize their ability to obtain a green card – from accessing health care, including testing and treatment for the virus. In so doing, the challengers contended, the rule “makes it more likely that immigrants will suffer serious illness if infected and spread the virus inadvertently to others—risks that are heightened because immigrants make up a large proportion of the essential workers who continue to interact with the public” in positions such as home-health-care aides, custodians and cooks.
The justices, the challengers emphasized, could not have considered these new developments when they ruled on the government’s request to put the district court’s orders on hold back in January. But because of the change in circumstances and the seriousness of the crisis, the challengers concluded, the justices should either block the government from implementing the public charge rule until the crisis is over or make clear that the district court can consider “whether the new circumstances presented by the COVID-19 crisis warrant a narrow and time-limited delay of the” rule.
The challengers’ motion is the most recent Supreme Court filing attributable to the COVID-19 crisis. Last week a divided court blocked a lower-court order that had extended the deadline for absentee ballots to be submitted in Wisconsin’s election, while on Saturday Planned Parenthood asked the justices to allow medication abortions to go forward while it challenges a near-total ban on abortions in Texas, imposed under an executive order by that state’s governor intended to conserve hospital space and personal protective equipment during the crisis.
This post was originally published at Howe on the Court.
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