The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed a case concerning a controversial Trump-era rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use certain public benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers, in response to a Justice Department request.
The new filing is the latest example of the Biden administration switching positions from the Trump era. Under former President Donald Trump, immigration enforcement was a cornerstone of his agenda.
Last month, the justices agreed to take up a challenge to the so called “public charge” rule brought by The Legal Aid Society, various groups and state and local officials. But in a brief letter to the court on Tuesday, Acting Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar told the justices that both sides had agreed that the challenge should be dismissed.
Susan Welber, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society said in an interview that the filing means that the Trump rule will “now be blocked while the Biden administration continues its review process and decides what the new will be.”
President Joe Biden has called for the immediate review of the rule in an executive order which, he said, “should consider and evaluate” the effects of the rule and recommend steps agencies should take “to clearly communicate current public charge policies and proposed changes, if any, to reduce fear and confusion among impacted communities.”
The Legal Aid Society and the other groups praised Biden’s actions and said in a statement that “the Trump rule erected an invisible wall in the form of a wealth test that discriminated against people on the basis of race as a condition for regularizing their immigration status.”
“And because of the public charge rule, immigrant families have been living in fear of using essential benefits like healthcare, despite serving as frontline workers who have been among those hardest hit by COVID-19,” the statement read.
The Trump rule was issued in 2019 and had been in effect in most states nationwide.
The “public charge” provision dates back at least to the Immigration Act of 1882. Federal lawmakers at the time wanted to make sure that immigrants would be able to take care of themselves and not end up being a public burden.
Under current regulations put in place in 1996, the term is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income.
But it only counted cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. The Trump administration’s rule widened the definition of who is expected to be dependent on the government by including more benefit programs.
The Trump administration’s policy made national headlines when then-acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, in his defense of the rule, revised the iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal, saying: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Advocates and several states that opposed the rule said the changes would penalize immigrants who rely on temporary assistance from the government and impose costs on the states.
Immigrant advocates have since warned of the rule’s chilling effect on communities. In some cases, immigrant families avoided public benefit programs, like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, in fear of risking future green card status, according to recently-released research from the Urban Institute.
This story has been updated with additional details.