Supreme Court allows Trump administration to enforce ‘public charge’ immigration restriction

The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to enforce, for now, its "public charge" immigration restriction, lifting a pair of preliminary injunctions issued by federal judges.

The Monday order followed a 5-4 split vote that divided the court’s conservatives and liberals.

At issue is the administration’s rule issued in August that would restrict immigrants entering the United States if the government believes they will rely on public assistance, such as housing or health care benefits. Lower federal courts had blocked the policy from being implemented while the issue is being litigated.

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After losing at the lower courts, the Justice Department asked the high court to intervene, allowing temporary enforcement until the issue is resolved on the merits. The states of Connecticut, Vermont, and New York, as well as New York City and immigrant rights groups, had brought the suit.

The Trump Justice Department has gone repeatedly to the Supreme Court to lift such court-ordered injunctions, bypassing the traditional appellate process.

Justice Neil Gorsuch -- supported by Justice Clarence Thomas -- wrote a separate concurrence on Monday, criticizing the increased reliance on nationwide injunctions to block government policies.

“The real problem here is the increasingly common practice of trial courts ordering relief that transcends the cases before them. Whether framed as injunctions of 'nationwide,' 'universal,' or 'cosmic' scope, these orders share the same basic flaw—they direct how the defendant must act toward persons who are not parties to the case,” Gorsuch wrote.

The court’s liberal justices, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, would have blocked the regulation’s enforcement.

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While a “public charge” inadmissibility standard has long been part of U.S. immigration law, it had not been formally defined by statute. The rule, announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in August, defines a “public charge” as an immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period.

“The principle driving it is an old American value, and that’s self-sufficiency,” USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli told Fox News in an interview last year. “It’s a core principle -- the American Dream itself -- and it’s one of the things that distinguishes us, and it's central to the legal history in the U.S. back into the 1800s.”

Those benefits that would be designated included Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), as well as most forms of Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. The rule expands the number of benefits that can be considered from interim guidance issued in 1999.

The public charge rule has faced fierce opposition from immigrant activists, as well as many Democrats -- who have opposed measures to limit welfare for immigrants, while also calling for the extension of various forms of government aid to illegal immigrants as well.

“This policy is yet another way for the Trump administration to hurt immigrants," said Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, said Monday. "It enshrines the false stereotype that people with disabilities do not contribute to our society. Families will suffer. Congress has repeatedly declared that disability discrimination violates federal law. This rule must be stopped.”

The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, DNC Chair Tom Perez, slammed the ruling.

“It’s sickening to see the United States Supreme Court rubber-stamp Trump’s extreme, anti-immigrant, xenophobic agenda,” he said. “The conservative justices of the court are allowing the Trump administration to penalize those seeking help and close the door on their aspirations to become a part of and give back to this country as American citizens or residents.”

The case is Department of Homeland Security v. State of New York and Make the Road New York (19a785).

Fox News’ Adam Shaw contributed to this report.