A federal judge blocked the Trump administration from implementing its controversial “public charge” rule during the coronavirus pandemic in a ruling Wednesday.
The rule makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers. It immediately met pushback, and was subsequently blocked by courts, following its release.
The Supreme Court twice denied a request from New York and other states to block the rule, saying it could go into effect nationwide while legal challenges played out. The second time the court indicated the states could go back to the lower courts, which they did.
Judge George Daniels on Wednesday said the worsening coronavirus pandemic provided more urgency.
“What were previously theoretical harms have proven to be true. We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in real time,” Daniels said.
Daniels underscored the dangers the rule might pose in the midst of a pandemic, despite an alert pushed out by US Citizenship and Immigration Services saying Covid-19 medical treatment and services would not count against immigrants.
“Any policy that deters residents from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19 increases the risk of infection for such residents and the public. Adverse government action that targets immigrants, however, is particularly dangerous during a pandemic,” Daniels wrote.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James noted that immigrants have been on the front lines of the pandemic since its start.
“Today’s injunction will ensure they are not targeted for obtaining health coverage or other vital services, as they continue to battle COVID-19,” she said in a statement. “This order is vital to our national health, as every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow.”
The matter is now likely to go up to the Supreme Court, where it’s already been a point of contention.
Deal by Roberts left door open to challenges
Earlier this year, amid the challenge to the public charge rule arising from the Covid-19 virus, Chief Justice John Roberts took the lead against immigrant interests yet mollified liberals poised to dissent publicly, CNN’s Joan Biskupic reported this week.
According to sources, liberal justices believed the pandemic had transformed the situation and wanted the administration to clarify its rules to help places like New York hit hard by the virus in the spring. Roberts was unmoved and believed administration guidance was clear that immigrants could obtain Covid-19 care without consequence to their green card applications. Other conservative justices agreed.
But Roberts, in an effort to tamp down tensions with the court’s liberals, agreed to a modest compromise that sent a signal the liberals sought in the court’s order and ensured that the challengers were not prevented from pressing ahead.
That order opened the door to New York’s renewed challenge and Wednesday’s ruling by Daniels.
This story has been updated with a statement from New York State Attorney General Letitia James.
CNN’s Joan Biskupic contributed to this report.