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Trump administration reimposes "public charge" immigration wealth test following court orders

Supreme Court allows "public charge" rule
Supreme Court allows controversial "public charge" immigration rule 06:08

The Trump administration on Tuesday said it is reimposing its "public charge" wealth test for green cards that had been blocked during the pandemic, a move likely to alarm advocates, who have warned about the policy's impact on immigrant communities ravaged by the coronavirus.

The 2019 rule, which gives officials more power to deny permanent residency to applicants the government deems rely or could rely on public benefits like food stamps or housing vouchers, was blocked in late July by a federal judge who found it was hampering efforts to contain the virus.

Citing declarations by doctors and local officials who said immigrants across the country feared they could jeopardize their immigration status by seeking medical treatment and government aid during the pandemic, Judge George Daniels blocked the policy's implementation for the duration of the national coronavirus emergency.

However, subsequent orders by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, including one earlier this month, limited and ultimately suspended Daniels' ruling, allowing the Trump administration to again enforce the public charge test.

In updated guidance on its website on Tuesday, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said it would apply the 2019 public charge test to all future and pending green card applications filed after February 24, 2020, when the agency implemented the rule following the Supreme Court's green light. Applications filed after Daniels' injunction in July that have been approved will not be re-adjudicated, USCIS said.

The "public charge" standard was first included in U.S. law in the early 1880s, when the U.S. government began to restrict and regulate immigration at the federal level, including by banning Chinese immigrants under the premise that they "endangered the good order" of certain American communities. The term "public charge" essentially means being an economic burden on the country.

While the test was used for decades to prohibit the entry of certain low-income immigrants and, in some cases, to deport them, its definition was expanded by the Trump administration's 2019 rule, which superseded Clinton-era guidance that instructed officials to only deem immigrants public charges if they were receiving government cash benefits or long-term institutionalized care.

The 2019 rule broadened the type and amount of benefits that count against immigrants seeking to stay in or move to the U.S., requiring immigration caseworkers to consider enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), certain federally funded Medicaid benefits, and a variety of forms of government-subsidized housing, including Section 8 vouchers.

Advocates have strongly criticized the policy, pointing to research about the "chilling effect" it has had on immigrant households that fear the consequences of accessing government benefits, including those comprised of green card holders and U.S. citizens, who are not subject to the public charge test. The Trump administration, however, has argued the policy promotes self-sufficiency among immigrants.

"That expectation in our law that legal immigrants who are going to stay here long-term can stand on their own two feet is a very long-standing not just tradition, but it's a long-standing legal requirement," Ken Cuccinelli, the second-in-command at the Department of Homeland Security, told CBS News in a recent interview. "I can cite family history in my Italian family about people who were sponsors and making sure their sponsorees had jobs and those kinds of things. That's what we expect."

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