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Welcome back to our weekly immigration news segment! This week in U.S. immigration news, the Supreme Court of the United States greenlights the Trump Administration’s change to the “Public Charge” rule.

“Public Charge” or “Wealth Test”?

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a 5-4 vote split along ideological lines, issued an order lifting a nationwide injunction against the Trump Administration’s controversial change to the interpretation of the Public Charge rule. The revised rule will now allow immigration authorities to reject green card applicants if they are deemed “at risk” of becoming a future public charge.

The ability of immigrants to support themselves has long been a consideration during the green card process. Currently, an immigrant is deemed at risk of becoming a public charge if they receive more than 50% of their income from State or Federal assistance. The Trump Administration’s revision of the rule will now include non-cash benefits as a form of assistance, such as housing, medical, or food.

The revised rules were slated to take effect in October of 2019, but multiple federal judges blocked their implementation following challenges from states and immigrant right groups. The Trump Administration urged the Supreme Court to lift the nationwide ban, and in a scorching concurring opinion Monday, Justice Neil Gorsuch and his fellow conservative Justices did just that.

Whilst the Supreme Court’s order may have been spare in its reasoning for lifting the preliminary injunction, Justice Gorsuch lambasted lower court judges in their over issuance of nationwide injunctions. For him Public Charge was never a Constitutional issue, what is “the real problem is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them.” In the Court’s opinion, this raises serious questions about the “scope of courts” equitable powers under Article III of the United States Constitution.

Nevertheless, the USCIS will implement the ‘Inadmissibility on Public Charge’ final rule on February 24th 2020 EXCEPT in the State of Illinois where a separate injunction remains in place. The acting Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, believes the revised rules will reinforce”‘the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful” in the U.S.

You may recall Secretary Cuccinelli’s attempts to re-write the poem on the Statue of Liberty in August. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” … who can “stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge”, added Cuccinelli. Our Managing Attorney, Fiona, was quoted in the New York Times, and elsewhere, stating how utterly offensive it was to imply that the Statute of Liberty was there to only welcome European immigrants.

Those who oppose the rule believe the change in interpretation of the Public Charge rule will have a chilling effect throughout the immigrant community. Under current stipulations even those who have followed every U.S. law now risk ineligibility in obtaining a green card should they be deemed to be a current or future public charge.

Government officials have stated that the change in rule will not apply to current green card holders, refugees, asylum-seekers, or to pregnant women and children. But immigrant rights advocates are dubious. Given the volatility within the current administration, such promises may change in the future.  

If you are considering applying for a green card but are now concerned following this change, we would urge you to consult with an immigration attorney.

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