Friday night, the Supreme Court lifted a statewide injunction in Illinois against the implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, which “discourages legal immigrants in the process of obtaining permanent legal status or citizenship from using public assistance, including Medicaid, housing vouchers and food stamps.” The decision was hardly a surprise, as a nationwide injunction regarding the same rule was lifted late last month by the high court. But Friday’s action received attention because of the dissent (.pdf) penned by Justice Sotomayor, in which she accused the conservative majority of reflexively ruling for Trump on injunctions:
Perhaps most troublingly, the Court’s recent behavior on stay applications has benefited one litigant over all others. This Court often permits executions — where the risk of irreparable harm is the loss of life — to proceed, justifying many of those decisions on purported failures “to raise any potentially meritorious claims in a timely manner.” [citations omitted] Yet the Court’s concerns over quick decisions wither when prodded by the Government in far less compelling circumstances — where the Government itself chose to wait to seek relief, and where its claimed harm is continuation of a 20-year status quo in one State. I fear that this disparity in treatment erodes the fair and balanced decisionmaking process that this Court must strive to protect.
I respectfully dissent.
I intend here not to focus on Sotomayor’s gripes but on the public charge rule.
I heard a story on NPR recently that said that the rule could affect fully 3/4 of immigrants who accept some kind of public assistance. I was, frankly, surprised by this statistic — offered by someone who opposed the rule, as evidence of how harmful it is — and can’t immediately find support for it online. (Commenters are invited to supplement my research at their leisure!)
But I should note that Cato (a pro-immigration outfit) has a contrary view, and says that even immigrants on public assistance tend to contribute more than they take, and that the rule is overly broad because it does not concern itself with the value of what they take. In a piece titled Public Charge Rule Bans Almost Entirely Self‐Sufficient Legal Immigrants, they write:
[I]t doesn’t even matter the value of benefits received anymore. Use alone will trigger a public charge denial.
This means that the government adjudicator could predict that an immigrant will be 99 percent self‐sufficient and still ban them. This rule has almost no connection whatsoever to requiring immigrants to support themselves. It is entirely about banning legal immigrants who this administration sees as a threat—socially and economically.
Basically, they believe the rule is designed, not to prevent immigrants from becoming public charges, but to make it easier to deny green cards to people who don’t speak English, or have a degree, or have their own health insurance — but who would contribute positively to American society.
I would add another concern: that the rule could discourage immigrants from seeking health care, allowing diseases to worsen and making them a health risk. This is a real problem in the era of the coronavirus.
I understand all these arguments. But I come at this from a fairly hard free-market perspective, though. I don’t want anyone taking public assistance from the government. I’d rather see private charity address the problems of the needy, and see more able-bodied people work for a living. If I have a choice of who I want in this country, I want people who don’t use public assistance.
I realize that is unrealistic and makes me something of an outlier. But I don’t really have a problem with a rule that strongly, strongly discourages the use of public assistance, even if it’s done in a heavy-handed way and even if it targets only immigrants. Half a loaf is better than none, and whatever we can do to discourage the use of public assistance is fine by me.
If these folks don’t need the assistance that much, then they won’t be that harmed by the rule. If they will be severely harmed by the rule, we don’t necessarily want to be the ones to have to take care of them.