Public Charge Rule Barred in Illinois

In mid-June, a Seventh Circuit panel upheld the decision to bar a federal public charge rule in Illinois. The new policy from the Trump administration aims to create additional obstacles for immigrants who are seeking green cards while living on food stamps, public benefits, or housing vouchers.

Temporarily Barring the Public Charge Rule

The appeals court’s 2-1 decision temporarily blocked the enforcement of the new public charge rule in Illinois, a rule that made changes to the definition of individuals considered “public charges” in accordance with the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. If individuals applying for immigration relied on benefits such as housing vouchers, Medicaid, and food stamps, the rule would give the government the ability to deny green cards and visas to these applicants.

In response to the public charge rule, Cook County elected to sue the Department of Homeland Security along with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will take place in September. The county is suing because it claims that the public charge rule is both arbitrary and discriminatory while deterring immigrants from seeking critical services out of fear of deportation.

In agreement with the county’s decision along with the opinion of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman issued a preliminary injunction that prevented the enforcement of the new rule to take place on October 14, a mere day before the planned enforcement of the rule.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

While the federal government requested a stay pending an appeal of Feinerman’s decision, Feinerman denied it, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court to overrule the denial 5-4 in February. In June, Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Wood issued the three-judge panel’s decision, stating that “we conclude that at least Cook County adequately established its right to bring its claim and that the district court did not abuse its discretion by granting preliminary injunctive relief.”

Further explaining the decision, Wood disclosed that the Supreme Court sided with Cook County, explaining that the new public charge rule was flawed and came with certain “predictable collateral consequences” for local and state governments. The court also ruled that the public charge rule developed a certain unreasonable standard for self-sufficiency among immigrants without any statutory basis for it.

Wood also explained that Cook County was likely to suffer a level of irreparable damage because of the rule, writing, “Given the dramatic shift in policy the rule reflects and the potentially dire public health consequences of the rule, we agree with the district court that the public interest is better served for the time being by preliminarily enjoining the rule.”

The decision in June also takes into consideration how the rule will prevent immigrants of all types from seeking or cause them to withdraw from both state-level and federal health care programs. Wood further explained that the rule has caused preventative medicine rates to fall as more immigrants turn to emergency care through the Cook County hospital system, which is uncompensated. As a result of these changes, Cook County would need to cover higher costs, and there would be an increased risk of the spread of communicable diseases across the country.

Cook County is not alone in wanting to block the new public charge rule. The Trump administration’s new rule has also been challenged across the country from San Francisco to New York City over the past eight months. The decision in June only pertained to the upholding of the preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the rule in the state of Illinois.

Dissenting Opinion on the Public Charge Rule

The only dissenter of the circuit court ruling in Cook County, Trump appointee U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Barrett, found that the county’s definition of “public charge” didn’t match the legal definition. Barrett also claimed that the emphasis on mass withdrawal from various benefit programs made the scope of the new rule seem larger than it actually is.

To support her claim, Barrett wrote a 40-page dissent that stated that while immigrants are withdrawing or avoiding public benefits because of fear around the effects of the public charge rule, individuals entitled to these benefits won’t be subject to the new rule. Specifically, she wrote that “contrary to public perception, the force of the rule does no fall on immigrants who have received benefits in the past.” Instead, she claims, the rule applies to nonimmigrant visa holders who may be eligible for benefits at a later time if they are approved for green cards.

Based on the ruling, the public charge rule will be temporarily blocked in Illinois, which may help reverse some of the harm it’s already caused and encourage immigrants to enroll or remain in benefit programs.