Supreme Court Greenlights ‘Public Charge’ Rule

In a narrow 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the Supreme Court has given the Trump administration the greenlight to enforce a rule that could make it harder for certain immigrants to gain green cards in the United States.

‘Likely to become a public charge’ is a ground of inadmissibility under the Immigration and Nationality Act, meaning that non-citizens seeking to be admitted to the United States also need to prove they they would not become reliant on public benefits. The government can use the designation to deny an immigrant a green card for permanent U.S. residency, and to determine which noncitizens can be removed or barred from the U.S.

In 2019, the Trump Administration created new regulations that expanded the pool of people who could be considered a likely ‘public charge’ in the United States. Before the rules could go into effect, federal courts in various states issued nationwide injunctions against the new rules.

Denials of green cards based on the public charge rule have increased under the Trump administration even without this policy in place.

Prior to the rule, only persons who had received SSI, TANF, state/local cash assistance and public assistance for a long-term care in an institution could be charged under the public charge grounds of inadmissibility. Now, the Trump Administration has added the following public benefits programs to the list:

  • Federal cash assistance programs
  • SNAP
  • Section 8 Housing Voucher Program
  • Section 8 Rental Assistance
  • Medicaid (except for emergency Medicaid, certain disability services related to education, and benefits received by foreign-born children of U.S. citizen parents who will be automatically eligible to become citizens)
  • Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program
  • Subsidized public housing

Further, past use of these public benefits can also be weighed against applicants.

As a matter of law and per USCIS instructions, the following classes of individuals are exempt from the public charge ground of inadmissibility, among others:
1. Applicants for asylum, refugee or adjustment of status based on asylum or refugee status;
3. Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners or adjustment of status based on VAWA;
4. Applicants for T (victim of human trafficking) nonimmigrant status;
5. Petitioners for U (crime victim) nonimmigrant status or adjustment of status based on U status; or
6. Applicants for Temporary Protected Status
7. Applicants filing for adjustment on the basis of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.

When in doubt about whether the new rules apply to you, consult with an immigration attorney.

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