Earlier this year, a divided Supreme Court gave the Trump administration the green light to enforce the “public charge” rule, which governs the admission of immigrants into the United States, while the government appeals orders by district courts in New York and Illinois that blocked it from doing so. Tonight the justices turned down pleas from the challengers in the case to put a temporary pause on the rule until the COVID-19 crisis is over. However, the justices did leave open the possibility that the challengers could return to the district court – which last year had issued orders that blocked the rule from going into effect while the challenges were being litigated – to seek relief, and at least one set of challengers appeared ready to take that option.
Under federal immigration law, noncitizens cannot receive a green card if the government believes that they are likely to become reliant on government assistance. The dispute now before the court arose last year, after the Trump administration defined “public charge” to refer to noncitizens who receive various government benefits, such as health care, for more than 12 months over a three-year period. The challengers had 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 the community” because it deters immigrants from seeking testing and treatment for the virus out of fear that it will endanger their ability to obtain a green card. The federal government countered that it has made clear that the use of publicly funded health care related to COVID-19 “will not be considered in making predictions about whether” immigrants are likely to become a public charge in the future.
Tonight the Supreme Court issued two orders denying the requests to temporarily block the government from enforcing the “public charge” rule. There were no public dissents from the orders. Perhaps notably, the justices indicated that tonight’s order did not bar the challengers from seeking relief in the district court “as counsel considers appropriate.” In a statement tonight, New York Attorney General Letitia James indicated that her state, joined by Connecticut and Vermont and New York City, would indeed make its case in the district court. “We will soon file an emergency motion in the Southern District of New York because our country can’t afford to wait,” James announced.