Justices OK immediate Trump crackdown on immigrants’ use of public benefits

The Supreme Court said Monday it will allow the Trump administration to begin enforcing a controversial new policy making it harder for low-income legal immigrants to obtain green cards or visas. 

The administration’s new, expanded “public charge” rule, which makes it easier for officials to bar immigrants who use, or are deemed likely to use, non-cash government benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps, is one of the most consequential policy changes by the Trump administration to date in its efforts to curtail legal immigration. (Under previous practice, the public charge rule was only applied to immigrants who were considered likely to receive cash welfare payments.)  

Like a number of controversial rules, it has been challenged in federal court by immigration advocates and several states. The lawsuits are still making their way through the judicial system, but a stay on enforcing the change imposed by a federal judge in the Southern District of New York was lifted by the high court Monday in a 5-4 decision that broke along familiar ideological lines. Other rules that have also been allowed to take effect pending a final resolution in the courts — a process that can take years — include the travel ban for nationals of several majority-Muslim countries, a change in asylum rules affecting Central American migrants who arrive at the southern border and the diversion of military appropriations for border wall construction.

The Trump administration’s approach of imposing its hard-line views by presidential proclamation, executive orders and regulatory changes rather than through Congress, has been met with lawsuits across the country — and resulted in a much larger role for the courts in shaping immigration policy.

Judges in federal district courts in Washington State, California, Hawaii and elsewhere have granted emergency requests for nationwide injunctions to block the government from implementing the policies in question while the case plays out in court. The administration has responded by asking higher courts to overturn the injunctions, and in cases that have reached the Supreme Court has generally prevailed. ‘

The first time the Supreme Court took the unusual step of weighing in on an immigration-related case during the Trump administration was in December 2017, when the court ruled that a third version of Trump’s travel ban, which restricted entry to the U.S. for nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Somalia and Yemen could fully take effect while legal challenges continued to make their way through the courts. The decision, issued nearly six months before the Supreme Court would actually hear arguments in the travel ban case, overturned earlier orders by federal judges in Maryland and Hawaii to block parts of the updated ban while the lawsuits against it proceeded. 

In June 2018 the Supreme Court ruled in the administration’s favor on the merits of the travel ban. 

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Caitlin Dickson