(JAMAICA OBSERVER) – New York Attorney General Letitia James has secured another major victory for Caribbean and other immigrants across New York and the rest of the United States in her lawsuit against the Trump administration’s Public Charge Rule.
President Donald Trump’s Public Charge Rule denies green cards and visas to Caribbean and other immigrants who the administration claims are likely to use government assistance programs in the future.
James led a coalition — which includes three states and New York City — that on Wednesday obtained a ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholding a preliminary injunction against the rule that changed the established meaning of public charge.
“The Second Circuit has now recognised that the Trump administration acted unlawfully in issuing its Public Charge Rule,” James said. “The federal government’s change to this rule was wrong when it was first issued, long before the public health crisis that now plagues the nation.”
“Unfortunately, the realities of the current pandemic underscore the importance of this fight, and we remain committed to delivering justice for New Yorkers and for our immigrant neighbours seeking to make a better life for themselves here,” she added.
Wednesday’s court decision enjoined the Public Charge Rule in its entirety in the plaintiff states and localities (New York, Connecticut, Vermont, and New York City), upholding a decision issued by a trial court a few months ago.
Because the original injunction had been stayed by the US Supreme Court, last week the trial court issued a second preliminary injunction against the Public Charge Rule, just for the duration of the public health crisis caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, finding that the rule was “exacerbating the spread of the disease by deterring people from seeking needed health care”.
US federal law allows lawful Caribbean and other immigrants to apply for certain supplemental health and nutritional public benefits if they have been in the country for at least five years.
But, last August, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a Public Charge Rule that changed the established meaning of public charge, which had long been that immigrants who use basic, non-cash benefits are not considered public charges because they are not primarily dependent on the government for survival.
James said this “bait-and-switch” consequently jeopardized the ability of Caribbean and other immigrants of becoming legal permanent residents or renewing their visas if they used the supplemental benefits to which they are legally entitled.
In Wednesday’s order, the court held that the Public Charge Rule is likely contrary to the immigration law set by the US Congress, and that it is “arbitrary and capricious”.
The court said that “Accepting help that is offered to elevate one to a higher standard of living, help that was created by Congress for that precise purpose, does not mean a person is not self-sufficient — particularly when such programs are available not just to persons living in abject poverty but to a broad swath of low- and moderate-income Americans, including those who are productively employed.”
“DHS goes too far in assuming that all those who participate in non-cash benefits programs would be otherwise unable to meet their needs and that they can thus be categorically considered ‘public charges,” the court ruled.
“Its unsupported and conclusory claim that receipt of such benefits indicates an inability to support oneself does not satisfy DHS’s obligation to explain its actions,” it added.
Last August, days after the Trump administration initially issued the Public Charge Rule, James and a coalition of states and New York City filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s rule in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, noting that the rule “specifically targets immigrants of colour, immigrants with disabilities, and low-income immigrants, while putting these communities at risk, and would have short- and long-term impacts on public health and the economy”.
The attorneys general of Connecticut and Vermont, as well as the corporation counsel for New York City all joined New York Attorney General James in filing the motion for a preliminary injunction that was affirmed on Wednesday.