FEDERAL COURT ENJOINS PUBLIC CHARGE RULE DURING PANDEMIC

In an eloquently written opinion, United States District Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York has enjoined implementation and enforcement of the Public Charge Rule (“the Rule”) during the declared national emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Rule expanded the definition of “public charge” and set new criteria for determining whether a non-citizen seeking entry into the United States or a legal immigrant seeking a change in their status, such as applying for a green card, is likely to become a “public charge.”  As a result, the Rule allowed immigration officials great discretion to reject entry into the United States and the permanent resident applications of legal immigrants who used Medicaid, Medicare Part D (prescription drugs) subsidies, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, and section 8 housing benefits. 

The Rule was highly controversial.  The provider community generally opposed the Rule, fearing that it would prevent immigrants from seeking needed medical care, thereby endangering public health.  For example, in an opinion piece published in the New York Daily News entitled “The High Price of the Public Charge Rule:  America Will Get Sicker if This Anti-Immigration Measure Goes into Effect,” Mount Sinai Health System President and CEO Kenneth Davis, MD cited to statistics and a government report that predicted that “this rule will lead to ‘worse health outcomes’ and ‘increased use of emergency rooms and emergent care.’”

Judge Daniels had originally issued a nationwide injunction preventing implementation of the Rule in October, 2019, but that injunction was stayed by the Supreme Court on January 27, 2020.  In light of the pandemic, the Plaintiffs challenging the Rule had asked the Supreme Court to lift or modify the stay.  Although the Supreme Court refused to do so, its Order did “not preclude a filing if the District Court as counsel considers appropriate.”

In issuing the new injunction, Judge Daniels noted that “[m]uch has significantly changed since January 27.”  His opinion highlighted the devastating effects of the pandemic, cited evidence that the Rule had impeded immigrants from seeking testing and treatment for COVID-19, and pointed out that immigrants form a substantial portion of essential workers continuing to work during the pandemic.  He concluded:

Here, the Supreme Court provided no analysis for its decision to stay the October 2019 injunction, nor any insight into its equitable judgment.  What is clear, however, is that the irreparable harm and public interests that warrant an injunction have come into sharper focus in the intervening months since the Supreme Court issued its stay.  What were previously theoretical harms have proven to be true.  We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in very real time.  Equitable relief has become nothing short of critical.

Mindful of the Supreme Court’s recent criticism of national injunctions, Judge Daniel nevertheless issued one because “a nationwide injunction is both necessary to redress the harms caused by the Rule, and appropriate given the strong federal interest in uniformity of the national health and immigration policies at issue here.”

The Court’s opinion is linked here.  Whatley Kallas, LLP’s earlier article on the provider community’s opposition to the Rule is linked here and our previous article on Dr. Davis’s opinion piece is linked here.

The attorneys at Whatley Kallas will continue to follow the litigation over the Rule as it moves through the courts.