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Supreme Court Allows Trump Administration Rule For Immigrants On Public Benefits


Low-income immigrants who use public benefits, such as food stamps, will have a tougher time getting a green card - at least for now. The Supreme Court today lifted a nationwide injunction that had kept the so-called public charge rule on hold. This is the latest victory the high court has delivered to the Trump administration.

NPR's Joel Rose covers immigration. He's in the studio now.

Hey, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So this is about the public charge rule, which is what, exactly? How's it work?

ROSE: Well, so this is a regulation that was supposed to take effect back in October, and it has two major impacts. First, it will affect current immigrants who use a wide range of public benefits - things like subsidized health insurance and food stamps, as you mentioned. It also affects immigrants wanting to come to the U.S. Anyone who is found to be likely to use those benefits in the future could be affected. So it has the potential to affect hundreds of thousands of people, making it harder for them to become permanent residents.

The Trump administration says it's enforcing an idea that has been written into federal law for decades - that we should not admit immigrants who might become a burden on the government, a so-called public charge. But the Trump administration is defining public charge much more broadly than past administrations did.

KELLY: OK. And so today's development - the Supreme Court allowing this rule to go into effect for now - what has the reaction been?

ROSE: Well, critics are worried about a chilling effect - that current immigrants will stop using all kinds of public aid because they don't want to jeopardize their immigration cases. And there's also concern about the impact on future immigrants. Under this new rule, immigration officials can take a whole range of factors into account when deciding who gets a green card, including age, income, ability to speak English, educational attainment. And critics say this new rule amounts to a wealth test that will make it harder for working-class immigrants to get in.

I talked to Julia Gelatt with the Migration Policy Institute, who studied the potential impact.

JULIA GELATT: Immigrants from Mexico and Central America, for example, show higher rates of negative factors than immigrants from Europe or Canada. Immigrants from Africa also could have a hard time passing the public charge rule.

KELLY: Joel, help me understand something here because this - today's action came from the Supreme Court, but there might still be legal challenges to come. This rule could be overturned.

ROSE: Right. Well, the legal challenges are still pending. The Supreme Court's order today did not get to the merits of this public charge rule at all. What the court's order mostly did address is the issue of nationwide injunctions. There are multiple federal judges around the country who had issued injunctions blocking the public charge rule. In fact, there is still a statewide injunction issued by a judge in Illinois that is still blocking the public charge rule there.

In today's order, Justice Neil Gorsuch rails against these universal injunctions. He writes that they are "sowing chaos," quote-unquote, for everyone who's affected by them. And this really echoes an argument that the Trump administration has been making for months now. Here's President Trump at a rally last year.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Activist judges who issue nationwide injunctions based on their personal beliefs undermine democracy and threaten the rule of law.

ROSE: The administration's critics would disagree with the president and with Justice Gorsuch in this case. They say this is how the courts are supposed to work. And sometimes the only way to protect the rights of people against bad government policy is a broad universal injunction.

KELLY: In the few seconds we have left, let me ask you a sweeping question, which is - set what happened today in the context of Trump's wider immigration policies we've heard so much about.

ROSE: Well, the Supreme Court has now sided with the administration on a lot of those big cases and lifted nationwide injunctions over funding for the president's border wall, rules limiting asylum at the southern border. And I think immigrant advocates have to worry that this strategy of getting an injunction from a lower court is not working as well as it used to.

KELLY: Joel Rose, thanks very much.

ROSE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLAP COTTON'S "ROSA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.