A Manhattan federal court issued two nationwide injunctions temporarily blocking the Trump administration’s “public charge” rules. An injunction issued against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prevents DHS from enforcing, applying, implementing, or treating as effective the “public charge” rule for any period during which there is a declared national health emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The ruling came after immigrant-rights attorneys successfully argued that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the DHS public charge rule lethal to immigrant communities by chilling the use of health care and other benefits. The court also enjoined the U.S. State Department from applying its parallel “public charge” rules, including the president’s Health Care Proclamation, to applicants for visas at U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.

“Since the Trump administration announced the public charge rules, it has caused immense harm to our communities — harm that intensified, as our country is in the midst of a health crisis,” said Javier H. Valdés, Co-Executive Director at Make the Road New York. “The public charge rules by both DHS and DOS attacked our loved ones by imposing a racist wealth test on the immigration system, leaving working immigrants to choose between vital services or remaining together with their families. At Make the Road, we have seen the devastating effect this rule has on families scared to seek out healthcare and basic forms of assistance from food pantries and even their children’s schools. We applaud the court’s decision and will continue to fight to stop the Trump administration’s reckless and inhumane attacks on immigrants.”

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the same New York court’s October 2019 decision to block DHS’s “public charge” rule. As a result, DHS began enforcing the rule on February 24, 2020, just before the coronavirus outbreak became a nationwide pandemic. The new injunction against DHS was issued in response to a joint motion filed by lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Legal Aid Society, and Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, who joined New York State Attorney General Letitia James, representing the states of New York, Connecticut, and Vermont and the City of New York in arguing that immigrants should not be deterred from accessing health care and government benefits and services, especially during this unprecedented health crisis.

The second nationwide injunction was issued in a separate case challenging the State Department’s public charge rule as well as the president’s Health Care Proclamation requiring visa applicants to show proof of private health insurance. Because of the ruling, immigrants seeking to go through consular processing will not be subject to the public charge test utilized by the State Department. That case was brought on behalf of individual and organizational plaintiffs by the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Legal Aid Society, the National Immigration Law Center, and Paul Weiss. Today’s ruling is the first decision fully addressing these policies, and it enjoined those policies indefinitely.

In his decision, Judge George B. Daniels wrote: “Much has significantly changed since January 27. Today, the world is in the throes of a devastating pandemic, triggered by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. In six months, approximately 16.5 million people around the globe have been afflicted by the disease caused by this virus. That disease (COVID-19) has claimed over 650,000 lives worldwide. In the United States alone, COVID-19 has spread rapidly, infecting over four million people. Close to 150,000 American residents have died. All of these staggering numbers continue to climb on a daily basis…. Thousands continue to die indiscriminately. Attempting to effectively combat this plague has immediately come in conflict with the federal government’s new ‘public charge’ policy, a policy which is intended to discourage immigrants from utilizing government benefits and penalizes them for receipt of financial and medical assistance.”

New injunctions will allow immigrant communities across the U.S. to safely access critical health care and public assistance during the health crisis.

Sources: https://www.nilc.org, https://www.cnn.com