July 29, 2020, Judge George B. Daniels of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued two nationwide injunctions (orders) temporarily blocking the Trump Administration from applying its “public charge” rules due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Judge Daniels cited evidence of non-U.S. citizens declining to enroll in publicly funded health care or not getting tested or treated for COVID-19 out of fear of becoming labeled a public charge when seeking a green card or visa.
The first injunction blocks the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS, which includes the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS) from applying or enforcing its updated public charge rule, which, among other features, expands the types of public benefits that DHS will consider when determining when a person applying for a green card or certain visas will be a public charge in the United States. The expanded list of public benefits under the updated public charge rule includes, among others, federal non-emergency Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps), and Section 8 public housing. DHS began applying the updated public charge rule on February 24, 2020.
The injunction blocking DHS from applying or enforcing the updated public charge rule will last as long as there is a national health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In issuing his order, Judge Daniels noted that there are now more than 4 million COVID-19 cases in the United States, and nearly 150,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States. Judge Daniels stated that the effort to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States directly conflicts with the updated public charge rule, which is “intended to discourage immigrants from utilizing government benefits and penalizes them for receipt of financial and medical assistance.”
The second injunction blocks the U.S. Department of State (DOS) from applying the updated public charge rule to individuals applying for immigrant visas and certain nonimmigrant visas at U.S. embassies and consulates overseas. Like DHS, the DOS began applying the updated public charge rule on February 24, 2020. The second injunction also blocks the DOS from applying President Trump’s health insurance proclamation, which requires overseas immigrant visa applicants to prove that they have or will have health insurance in the United States (the health insurance requirement was already blocked starting in November 2019 under a separate lawsuit).
Judge Daniels’ injunctions are national in reach and take place immediately, meaning that DHS and DOS are now temporarily blocked from applying the updated public charge rule to individuals seeking green cards, immigrant visas, and certain nonimmigrant visas, and other U.S. immigration benefits.
However, the first injunction (against DHS) only will only last as long as there is a national health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, it remains to be seen how DHS and DOS react to the injunctions, especially since the agencies currently require the use of immigration application forms containing extensive questions about the updated public charge rule. It is also likely that the Trump administration will push back against the injunctions and even seek relief from the U.S. Supreme Court. Therefore, we advise that you speak with an experienced immigration attorney if you have questions about how the updated public charge rule may affect your current or future immigration case. Please check back for updates on this developing issue.