Five Federal Courts Enjoin Public Charge Rule, Citing Powerful Evidence

By Olivia Golden

Tuesday, October 15, was the day when the Trump Administration’s deeply damaging and lawless “public charge” rule was supposed to be implemented across the United States. But, since last Friday, five federal courts have issued preliminary injunctions blocking implementation of the rule. Judge George B. Daniels in New York called the policy “repugnant to the American dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility.”

If implemented, the rule would have thrown away decades of precedent to create an income test that targets lawfully present immigrants and would have sent the message that only the wealthy and white have a place in the United States. The Trump Administration’s changes to the public charge rule were also designed to make immigrant families afraid to participate in public health, nutrition, and affordable housing programs.

More than a quarter million people spoke out against the rule when it was posted for public comment last fall. Commenters provided research and evidence of the potential harms, sharing powerful stories of their own and from their communities. Together, the public comments documented the cost to states, cities, and health care providers and made a powerful case for how the proposed rule would have contradicted the will of Congress and threatened public health and wellbeing.

While the administration ignored these comments from the public when it finalized the rule in August of this year, the courts did not. The committed lawyers, courageous plaintiffs, and partners who submitted information as “amici” (friends of the court) were able to persuade the judges that they, the plaintiffs, were likely to win on the merits and that there would be immediate harm if the rule went into effect. Federal judges in the states of Washington, New York, and Maryland issued nationwide preliminary injunctions to halt implementation. As long as any one of those injunctions is in place, changes remain on hold across the country—and may never take effect.

In their decisions, the judges mentioned the powerful evidence gleaned from the comments, the stark failure of the administration to take those comments into account, and the extreme overreach of the administration proposal and its apparent violation of Congressional intent. In fact, the judges found that the arbitrariness of the administration’s proposal suggested, in the words of the New York court order, that “[t]he rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification.”

Even without being officially put into place, the rule has already spread fear and confusion, and thereby devastated children, families, and communities around the country, contributing (for example) to a national decline in children’s health coverage. The battle to completely reverse the rule is far from over. These preliminary injunctions will surely be appealed, and the administration is ramping up other policy threats to achieve its overall goal of making immigrants feel afraid and unwelcome.

While there is much more to do, we should celebrate and recognize the hundreds of thousands of people who took action to stop this repugnant policy from taking effect. Individuals in communities nationwide negotiated the complicated federal comment process—in many cases for the first time—and spoke up to support immigrant families and explain why access to health, nutrition, and housing matter to all of us. At a time of a deeply compromised presidential administration, the real leaders of the nation are the vast crowds who took action to stand together and defend a vision of justice and a moral core for the nation—and the courts that listened to them.