Attorney General James Continues Fight to Stop Public Charge Rule

AG James Asks District Court to Temporarily Halt Rule as Coronavirus Rages On

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James last night led a coalition of three states and New York City in filing a motion asking the courts to temporarily halt implementation of the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule in light of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health crisis. A motion seeking a new preliminary injunction with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was filed after the U.S. Supreme Court, on Friday evening, chose not to act in the matter, but ruled that the plaintiffs had the option to take their argument back to the lower court for a decision.

“Unlike the Public Charge Rule, this disease does not discriminate — infecting both citizens and non-citizens alike,” said Attorney General James. “As our state and nation continue to suffer the devastating effects of COVID-19, it has become more and more clear that the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule will only further exacerbate the problem and punish New York and other immigrant-rich states by denying many the ability to obtain health care. We’re asking the district court to again take immediate action and suspend this rule and the threat it places on all of us. It’s time to end this national nightmare because every person who doesn’t get the health coverage they need today risks infecting another person with the coronavirus tomorrow.”

Federal law allows lawful immigrants to apply for certain supplemental health and nutritional public benefits if they have been in the country for at least five years. But, last August, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a Public Charge Rule that changed the established meaning of public charge, which had long been that immigrants who use basic, non-cash benefits are not considered public charges because they are not primarily dependent on the government for survival. This “bait-and-switch” consequently jeopardized immigrants’ chances of becoming legal permanent residents or renewing their visas if they used these supplemental benefits to which they are legally entitled.

Last August, days after the Trump Administration initially issued the Public Charge Rule, Attorney General James and a coalition of states and New York City filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration rule in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, noting that the rule specifically targets immigrants of color, immigrants with disabilities, and low-income immigrants, while putting these communities at risk, and would have short- and long-term impacts on public health and the economy.

In October 2019, after Attorney General James and the coalition filed a motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court issued an order that stopped the rule from going into effect during the litigation. The Trump Administration then filed a motion to stay the order, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit denied the request. The Administration finally filed a motion in the U.S. Supreme Court, which issued a stay of the district court’s preliminary injunction, pending the Second Circuit’s decision in the case and any subsequent petition to the Supreme Court.

Despite the Supreme Court’s decision in January, two weeks ago, Attorney General James led a coalition in asking the Supreme Court to take emergency measures to temporarily halt its earlier order on the Public Charge Rule until the national coronavirus pandemic is over. While the Supreme Court did not halt its own order on Friday, the court gave Attorney General James and the coalition permission to take the request back to the district court, which issued the initial preliminary injunction and originally stopped the rule from going into effect.

Since the initial preliminary injunction motion was argued in the district court, COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the national landscape. The United States went from not a single reported COVID-19 case to more than one million confirmed infections and more than 58,000 confirmed deaths, and is now the country with the most virus-related deaths in the world. More than 292,000 of those infections and more than 17,000 deaths have been reported in New York State alone.

In the months since the outbreak began, New York City, and cities across the United States have issued states of emergency. New York State and every other state in the nation have issued states of emergency. President Donald Trump has declared a national state of emergency and has approved federal disaster declarations for all 50 states and almost all territories.

In last night’s motion asking for a new preliminary injunction from the district court, Attorney General James leads the coalition in asking the court to now take into consideration the extraordinary events of the last two months and the new and devastating effects that the Public Charge Rule has had on the nation’s public-health and economy as COVID-19 has spread across the country, as well as how the rule continues to impede efforts to slow the continued spread of the virus happening nationwide. The motion asks the court to temporarily halt further implementation of the rule until the national emergency concerning COVID-19 is over.

Of note in the motion is the fact that immigrants make up a large number of essential workers helping move our nation along during this crisis, and if they don’t have access to the proper health care today, they are more likely to spread the virus to all Americans, inadvertently, tomorrow — not only contributing to the exponential growth of infection rates, but of fatalities as well. In short, “the Rule is undermining efforts to slow the spread of the virus.”

Further, the coalition argues that the nation’s economy cannot undergo further damage from the spread of COVID-19. In the five-week period ending April 23, more than 26 million residents across the nation lost their jobs and filed for unemployment, more than 1.4 million of which were New Yorkers. And according to estimates by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between February and March 2020, the number of immigrant adults who are unemployed rose by 26 percent. As last night’s motion argues, “many workers who lose their jobs and employer-sponsored health insurance because of the pandemic are likely to need Medicaid coverage until they can find another job.”

Attorney General James and the coalition end by arguing that while the district court had earlier halted the Public Charge Rule from taking effect, the harms of the rule at the time of COVID-19 have only intensified and exacerbated the reasons why the rule need to be halted.

Joining Attorney General James in filing this new motion in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York are the attorneys general of Connecticut and Vermont, as well as corporation counsel for New York City.

This matter is being handled by Deputy Bureau Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau Elena Goldstein, Civil Enforcement Section Chief of the Labor Bureau Ming-Qi Chu, and Assistant Attorneys General Abigail Rosner and Amanda Meyer, all under the supervision of Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo. Additional support was provided by Senior Assistant Solicitor General Judith N. Vale and Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu. The Division for Federal Initiatives is overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.