The U.S. Supreme Court cleared President Donald Trump’s administration to start enforcing its new immigrant wealth test, designed to screen out green card applicants seen as being at risk of becoming dependent on government benefits.
In a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the court blocked a New York federal judge’s ruling that was keeping the policy from taking effect while a legal fight goes forward.
The Supreme Court released the order even as Chief Justice John Roberts presided over Trump’s impeachment trial across the street in the Senate. Roberts was in the majority, along with fellow Republican appointees Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
The Trump rule changes what critics say is a longstanding understanding of federal immigration law and its bar on permanent residency for “public charges.” The new rule expands the definition of public charge and gives officials broad power to determine that someone is at risk of falling into that category.
The rule will “radically disrupt over a century of settled immigration policy and public-benefits programs,” New York, Vermont, Connecticut and New York City argued in a filing that urged the court to leave the rule on hold.
The court as a whole gave no explanation for its order. In an opinion for himself and Thomas, Gorsuch said the court needs to curb the power of federal trial judges to issue nationwide orders blocking a governmental initiative.
“The real problem here is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them,” Gorsuch wrote.
The Supreme Court action clears the administration to enforce the rule everywhere except Illinois, where a separate court order continues to block the new policy.
Under the new rule, immigrants will be considered public charges if they are deemed likely to receive such public benefits as Medicaid, public housing assistance or food stamps for more than 12 months over a 36-month period.
To make that determination, Department of Homeland Security officials can consider a list of factors, including age, health, education, English-language proficiency, family size, wealth, and credit score.
The ruling “represents a reasonable and lawful exercise of the substantial discretion Congress has long vested in the executive branch to make public-charge admissibility determinations,” U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco, the administration’s top Supreme Court lawyer, said in court papers.
Previously, people didn’t qualify as a public charge unless they were receiving cash benefits from the government and were primarily dependent on that aid.
Five immigrant-services organizations are joining the New York-led group in challenging the rule. They say the rule violates federal immigration law and the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.
The case is Homeland Security v. New York, 19A785.
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