Citing Concerns with Pandemic, Federal Judge Halts Public Charge Rule Nationwide

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge George Daniels on Thursday issued a nationwide injunction against the Trump Administration’s public charge rule, citing ongoing and urgent concerns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Recall, the Trump Administration’s public charge rule, finalized last year, enables federal immigration officials to deny entry or legal status to immigrants who are likely to rely on specified public benefits, including non-emergency Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), housing subsidies, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, among others.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a similar nationwide injunction allowing the rule to take effect nationwide while legal action took place in federal appeals court. A handful of states in April again sought to block the rule from taking effect, but the Supreme Court denied the request. In Thursday’s ruling this week, the federal judge determined that since the Supreme Court’s ruling in April, the pandemic has gotten notably worse and noted that “the irreparable harm and public interests that warrant an injunction have come into sharper focus. … We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in real time.”

The plaintiffs in the case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York argued that the public charge rule makes it more difficult for immigrants to seek COVID-19 testing and care. While the Department of Homeland Security did acknowledge that medical treatment for COVID-19 conditions would not count toward the public charge rule test, Judge Daniels indicated, “Any policy that deters residents from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 increases the risk of infection for such residents and the public. Adverse government action that targets immigrants, however, is particularly dangerous during a pandemic.”

In response to the ruling, California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly released a statement indicating, “We are heartened by yesterday’s federal court ruling blocking implementation of the federal public charge rule during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should have to fear for their immigration status when seeking vital assistance during this public health emergency and time of economic disruption.” CHHS additionally issued an updated public charge guide fact sheet that reflects the federal court ruling.