Attorney General James Stops Trump Administration from Continuing to Implement Public Charge Rule During Coronavirus Pandemic

District Court Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Rule as COVID-19 Rages On

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today secured a major victory for immigrants across New York and the rest of the nation by blocking the Trump Administration from continuing to implement its Public Charge Rule while the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) public health crisis rages on. Attorney General James led a coalition — that includes three states and New York City — in winning a motion for a preliminary injunction, in federal court, that immediately halts implementation of the rule that changed the established meaning of public charge.

“This victory will immediately halt the Trump Administration’s discriminatory rule from continuing to hurt every person across the nation,” said Attorney General James. “For nearly five months, the Public Charge Rule has further exacerbated the public health crisis the country faces by punishing New York and other immigrant-rich states — stripping families of their ability to access basic services. Immigrants have been on the front lines fighting this pandemic from the start, and today’s injunction will ensure they are not targeted for obtaining health coverage or other vital services, as they continue to battle COVID-19. This order is vital to our national health, as 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, in April, 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 end of the COVID-19 national pandemic. While the Supreme Court did not halt its own order, the court gave Attorney General James and the coalition permission to take the request back to the district court.

At the end of April, Attorney General James and the coalition filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which the court granted today, ordering that DHS is “enjoined from enforcing, applying, implementing, or treating as effective the Rule for any period during which there is a declared national health emergency in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The attorneys general of Connecticut and Vermont, as well as corporation counsel for New York City all joined Attorney General James in filing the motion for a preliminary injunction that was won today.

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.