The Trump administration on Monday asked the Supreme Court to lift a lower court order that is blocking the government’s efforts to make it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance to obtain legal status.
The request comes after the administration in August unveiled its regulation broadening the definition of “public charge,” a provision that dates back at least to the Immigration Act of 1882.
The rule affects people who receive most forms of Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. It was immediately met with pushback from advocates and several states, which argued that the changes would penalize immigrants who rely on temporary assistance from the government and impose costs on the states.
In October, a New York judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking the rule, but a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Trump administration last month, granting a stay on rulings that have blocked the measure from taking effect, in a 2-1 decision.
That decision by the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, however, didn’t have an immediate practical effect because the policy is still on hold due to nationwide rulings in two separate federal courts.
In Monday night’s filing, Solicitor General Noel Francisco urged the court to lift the injunction while the appeals process plays out. Noting other legal challenges to the rule in other cases, Francisco said the nationwide injunction hurts “this Court’s interest in allowing an issue to percolate in the lower courts.”
The acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, whose agency is responsible for adjudicating immigration applications, has defended the “public charge” rule as “well within the law.”
“This rule is well within the boundaries of the law and the legal tradition,” he told CNN’s Erin Burnett in August. “Self-sufficiency is a central part of America’s proud heritage and we proudly stand behind that tradition.”
Under regulations put in place in 1996, the term is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income.
It’s hard to know exactly how many people would be affected by the regulation because it’s largely subject to the discretion of the officer who will take into account whether someone is likely to become a public charge.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, however, the rule is expected to impact roughly 382,000 people seeking to adjust their immigration status. Immigration advocates, however, say millions of people could be affected.
Immigration advocates have also argued that the rule goes beyond what Congress intended and would discriminate against those from poorer countries, would keep families apart and would prompt legal residents to forgo needed public aid, which could also affect their US citizen children.