State AGs ask Supreme Court to halt 'public charge' rule during pandemic

State AGs ask Supreme Court to halt 'public charge' rule during pandemic
© Greg Nash

New York’s attorney general on Monday asked the Supreme Court to temporarily halt the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which aims to curtail the use of public benefits by immigrants, until the U.S. recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. 

New York, joined by other state and local governments, urged the justices to reconsider an earlier ruling that allowed the administration to move forward on a provisional basis with a policy of linking immigrants’ legal status to their use of public benefits.   

“The public charge rule drives immigrants and their families away from accessing health benefits to which they are entitled by threatening applicants’ eligibility for green cards and visa renewals,” New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) said in a statement, adding that the Trump policy threatens “efforts to slow the continued spread of the virus happening nationwide.”

ADVERTISEMENT

The attorneys general of Connecticut and Vermont as well as counsel for New York City joined James’s 27-page court filing asking the justices to revisit the policy in light of the coronavirus outbreak. 

The U.S. has confirmed more than 572,000 cases and 23,000 deaths since its first coronavirus infection was detected Jan. 20.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court issued two 5-4 rulings along ideological lines to lift injunctions on the rule while the case played out in federal appeals court. Those rulings allowed the policy to take effect nationwide in late February. 

The court’s four liberals voted to continue blocking the rule, which makes it harder for immigrants who depend on public benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps to gain legal status.

Under the policy, an immigrant is considered a public “charge,” or dependent, for receiving at least one public benefit such as Medicaid or food stamps for more than 12 months within any three-year period.

Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has described the rule as simply verifying that immigrants “can stand on their two feet.”

ADVERTISEMENT

But the attorneys general in their Monday filing argued that the continued application of the public charge rule, which critics deride as a “wealth test” on immigrants, poses a risk to public health.

“Every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow,” James said.

The coalition of state and local governments asked the justices to either temporarily lift or modify the stay amid the national emergency or allow a district court in New York to craft a new injunction tailored to the current public health circumstances.