Score Two Wins for the Rule of Law


October 11, 2019

Two important pieces of good news today for those who care about meeting human needs:

1. The Trump Administration’s attempt to implement its Public Charge rule on October 15 has been blocked by a nationwide preliminary injunction. The decision comes from Judge George B. Daniels of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York. As the decision notes, a preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary remedy” only granted if a party can establish “…that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” (Winter v Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc, 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008).)

What’s the Public Charge rule? The Trump Administration has sought to deny green cards or visas to immigrants if they have used certain government aid programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or housing assistance. For decades, only the use of cash assistance or nursing home care would define a person as a “public charge.” The Administration’s harsh broadening of the criteria has been opposed through hundreds of thousands of public comments and by court suits including the one brought to the NY court by the city and state of New York, and states of Connecticut and Vermont.

CHN was one organization of a great many opposing the regulations, seeing its harmful chilling effect among families with immigrants afraid to make use of benefits not even affected by the rule. The Administration ignored more than a quarter of a million comments and was going to push ahead, but is at least temporarily stopped by Judge Daniels’ ruling, which called the Trump policy arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the long-standing definition of public charge, and contrary to congressional intent. To quote Judge Daniels’ opinion: “It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility.”

There will of course be more coming out about this – as I write, additional national and state-specific injunctions have been issued. You’ll be reading more soon. But we all should feel relief that the harm has been at least stalled and the rule of law has been asserted. And we should all be grateful to the legal teams and advocates who have made the current and future harms so clear.

2. Texas Federal District Court blocks Trump border wall funding. The Trump Administration had made an emergency declaration to spend government funds on border wall construction that Congress had refused to authorize. Western District of Texas federal court Judge David Briones ruled that the emergency declaration was illegal. This suit was brought by El Paso County, Texas and the Border Network for Human Rights. These plaintiffs have been given 10 days to propose terms for a preliminary injunction to halt border wall construction; after they file their proposed terms, the Trump Administration has 5 days to respond.

CHN, among many organizations and individuals nationwide, has specifically opposed the border wall spending as wasteful and harmful – and contrary to law. Here too, there will be appeals and a likely final decision at the Supreme Court. It is reassuring, though, that this decision is strong and clear in calling the Trump emergency declaration unlawful. Legal experts and advocates with widely differing ideological perspectives worked against the emergency declaration. We don’t like kings in the U.S.

public charge