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The Supreme Court is allowing President Trump's Public Charge Rule to go nationwide starting on Feb. 24. Photo: Getty Images
"Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge," said USCIS Director Ken Cuccinelli

Between green cards and welfare, Public Charge rule takes effect today

As the Supreme Court allows the policy to take effect, immigrants applying for adjustment of status after Feb.24 will have to prove they “can stand on their…

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The Supreme Court is allowing President Trump's Public Charge Rule to go nationwide starting on Feb. 24, making it harder for legal immigrants to adjust their status if they’ve ever used government assistance like food stamps, Medicaid, or housing vouchers.

The 5-4 decision has been called by critics a  “wealth test” for legal immigrants, since it bans any soon-to-be permanent resident who is “likely at any time become a public charge” from obtaining a green card, discouraging those in the process of obtaining permanent legal status or citizenship from using public assistance.

According to press secretary Stephanie Grisham, the ruling “will protect hard-working American taxpayers” by allowing access to welfare only to “truly, needy Americans.”  

“Newcomers to our society should be financially self-reliant and not dependent on the largess of United States taxpayers," she said.

While the White House is "gratified" by the ruling, litigation continues with only refugees, asylum seekers, certain Violence Against Women Act self-petitioners, victims of criminal activity (U-visa) petitioners, and Human trafficking (T-status) applicants exempt from the public charge ruling.

Since the decision on whether or not an immigrant can be considered likely or unlikely to become a public charge relies on the discretion of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officers, it's unknown how many people will be affected by this policy.

What is the Public Charge Rule?

The "public charge" rule, unveiled in August, is not a new concept but rather an expansion of a provision dating back to the Immigration Act of 1882, which was set to prevent immigrants from being a “public burden”.

By 1996, the appropriate term for foreign residents who received more than half of their income from U.S government assistance was "primarily dependent”, but it only included cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. 

A year later, in 1997, the concept of an affidavit of support was introduced. The measure requires immigrants all around the world wishing to apply for legal status in the U.S to meet an income requirement equal to or higher than 125% of the U.S. poverty level per household size. 

Fast forward to 2020, and the Public Charge rule is going into effect in every state, except for Illinois, because it is governed by a separate judicial order. 

The Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli says the rule is simply verifying that immigrants “can stand on their two feet.”

A switch from The New Colossus 

While Cuccinelli himself, in his defense of the rule, revised the iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal, saying: 

"Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

The administration policies have once and again been met with legal challenges and opposition.

Even lower courts and justices have tried to block the Public Charge policy from becoming law and taking effect across the country. 

Over the fall, a New York judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking the rule, but Solicitor General Noel Francisco appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, asking the justices to allow the rule to go into effect while the appeals process played out.

Today the measure goes into effect with only the Democratic Supreme Court justices opposing the policy.

One of the dissidents is the only Latinx judge on the Supreme Court, Sonia Sotomayor, who questioned the current administration’s constant “seek of emergency relief from this Court."

"Make no mistake," Sotomayor said, "this Court is partly to blame for the breakdown in the appellate process.”

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