Court Injunctions Protect Immigrant Families from Imposition — Yesterday — of Trump’s Public Charge Rule

Last Friday, NPR reported the good news: “Federal judges in three states—New York, California and Washington—have issued temporary injunctions against the Trump administration’s ‘public charge’ rule, preventing it from taking effect on Oct. 15.”

For NBC News, Daniella Silva explains exactly how the Trump administration’s punitive rule—which DID NOT go into effect yesterday as planned—would have excluded legal immigrants and their families.  An old rule previously denied green cards to immigrants, “who depended on cash assistance or government-funded long-term institutional care.”  “The new rule expands the definition to include additional benefits such as food stamps, non-emergency Medicaid, certain prescription drug subsidies and housing vouchers.  And the rule would now define public charge as any immigrant who uses or is deemed likely to use at some point one public benefit for 12 months during a 36-month period. Receipt of two public benefits in one month counts as two months, the rule noted. Once labeled a ‘public charge’ immigrants could be denied green cards, visas and other forms of legal immigrant status.”

The judges’ injunctions issued last Friday will delay the imposition of the new rule, described by the NY Times‘ Miriam Jordan as “developed by Stephen Miller, the White House aide who is the architect of several of the government’s hard-line immigration policies.”

The Trump administration’s rule has not been permanently overturned.  However, the courts have blocked its implementation while the matter of its constitutionality moves through the court system.  Jordan quotes Steve Yale-Loehr, an immigration professor at Cornell Law School: “The court rulings today represent at least a temporary setback in the Trump administration’s attacks on both legal and illegal immigrants… Ultimately, I predict these issues will go all the way to the Supreme Court.'”

In his ruling on Friday, Judge George B. Daniels, of the Southern District of New York explained: “The Rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification… It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility. Immigrants have always come to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their posterity.  With or without help, most succeed.”

The Trump administration’s extremely punitive public charge rule was intended to frighten immigrant families from seeking perfectly legal assistance when they are desperate. The NY Times‘ Jordan provides statistics demonstrating high employment among immigrants—often in jobs without sufficient benefits: “Nearly 85 percent of legal immigrants live in a family with at least one full-time worker… a rate higher than that of citizens.  However, they are more likely than citizens to live in low-income families and work in jobs and industries that do not offer health coverage, which is why many turn to government-funded assistance such as Medicaid.”

And, Jordan reports, the number of affected legal immigrants, if the rule were to go into effect, would be sizeable: “The new standards would directly affect about 1.2 million applicants annually, including about 500,000 who are already in the country. But that figure does not include millions of family members and others who might also be affected.”

The Washington Post’s Moriah Balingit reports that if the rule had gone into effect this week, it would have directly affected children served by the federally subsidized school lunch program: “About a half-million students could lose access to free school meals under a Trump administration proposal to limit the number of people who qualify for food stamps… The change, proposed over the summer, would cut an estimated 3 million people from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP–today’s term for food stamps). Children in those households could also lose access to free school lunches, since food stamp eligibility is one way students can qualify for the lunches.”

Fear has very likely already caused some families to give up urgently needed services. The NY Times‘ Jordan explains why: “Diminished participation in Medicaid and other programs would undermine the financial stability of immigrant families and the healthy development of their children…. Nationwide, 13.5 million users of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 7.6 million children, live in a household that includes at least one noncitizen…. The complexity of the regulation and fear of being denied a green card already have sown confusion in immigrant communities.”

In a moving reflection on the potential impact of the public charge rule, the education writer and a professor of education at UCLA, Mike Rose posted on his personal blog the story of his grandparents: “My grandfather, Anthony Meraglio, was among the four million immigrants from Southern Italy—most were poor and minimally educated—who flowed into the United States between 1880 and 1920. Many of the men entered the basic labor force of the heavy industries that would contribute to American economic preeminence by mid-Twentieth Century.  Tony found work in the expansive yards of the Pennsylvania Railroad in Altoona, Pennsylvania, clearing waste and debris, hauling materials, coupling and uncoupling freight cars… One day in 1921, in the main yard of the railroad, Tony was standing under a locomotive’s ash pan that had been secured to a crane. As the pan was being lifted, it slipped loose and caught Tony across his leg, resulting in an injury so severe that his leg was amputated. This was before the protections of our country’s social safety net existed—the kinds of protections Mr. Cuccinelli (the Trump administration’s acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) wants to restrict, or penalize people for using.  My grandmother, Frances, went into crisis mode: taking in boarders, pulling my mother out of school in the 7th grade to tend to the house, getting the other kids, some still in the primary grades, into the work force. Theirs was a hard, grinding life.”

The executive director of the Center for Law and Social Policy, Olivia Golden commented on last Friday’s court injunctions: “The public charge rule is rooted in discrimination and racial animus, targets lawfully present immigrants and sends the message that only wealthy and white immigrants have a place in the United States.  But today, once again, the courts have stepped in to stop this administration in its attempt to implement a policy that divides us as a nation and damages the lives of millions of immigrants, their families, their children and their communities.  Today’s ruling means a temporary halt in the implementation of the public charge rule… We encourage immigrants to continue to seek the services they need to take care of their families and to ensure their children’s health and economic security.”