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More Balls and Strikes From the Trump Court


Yesterday, a bare majority of the Supreme Court silently allowed the Trump administration’s “public charge” rules, which will allow it to arbitrarily deny visas and green cards to anyone deemed likely to receive public assistance, to go into effect. This is a disaster of both law and policy:

Monday’s order will force countless immigrants to forgo health care, food stamps, and housing assistance; it will drive families to illness, starvation, and homelessness; and it is impossible to square with federal law.

The 5–4 decision is both a humanitarian catastrophe and an act of rank hypocrisy: The same conservative justices who rail against executive lawmaking by federal bureaucrats approved a policy written by bureaucrats that radically alters the laws passed by Congress. The “public charge” rule furthers Trump’s effort to limit legalimmigration by any means necessary. Congress has failed to pass any legislation furthering this agenda, so the Department of Homeland Security simply rewrote the law in 2018 to reduce the number of individuals who can legally enter and remain in the United States. DHS zeroed in on a federal law that denies visas and green cards (or “lawful permanent residence”) to individuals deemed likely to become a “public charge.”


Because these guidelines are utterly unmoored from the actual law, three different courts blocked the new rule. On Monday, the Supreme Court lifted a nationwide injunction, allowing the rule to take effect in every state except Illinois, where a different court kept it on ice. The majority did not even hint at its reasoning for lifting the injunction. All four liberals dissented.

SCOTUS’ ruling will devastate immigrant communities in the United States who rely upon even modest public benefits to survive. Many immigrants currently hold temporary visas and wish to become lawful permanent residents in the future. They may unenroll from Medicaid, abandon food stamps, and lose their homes to preserve their ability to gain green cards. Attorneys fighting the rule estimate that “hundreds of thousands” of people will be affected. These individuals, including children, will suffer malnutrition, poverty, homelessness, and preventable disease. Moreover, immigrants who are denied a green card may lose their legal status altogether, forcing them to leave the country or risk deportation. The rule will also exclude a large number of immigrants seeking entry from abroad, who face the daunting task of proving total self-sufficiency, not just now but indefinitely.

This extraordinary burden might be legally tolerable if Congress had demanded it. But Congress did no such thing. Instead, the Senate refused to implement a version of the new rule as recently as 2013. But Trump’s Department of Homeland Security would not let a little thing like congressional inaction stand in the way of its nativist goals. So the agency converted Congress’ limited definition of a public charge into a sweeping category that will subject as many as 94 percent of legal immigrants to extra scrutiny.

Dara Lind had more on the rule changes here. The 2014 and 2016 elections will lead to an incalculable amount if damage that will be hard to unwind when it isn’t impossible.

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