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The Chilling Effect of the ‘Public Charge’ Rule

Fears of visa rejection or deportation keep immigrant families from receiving health care and food aid, despite increasingly urgent needs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A 7-year-old boy from Guatemala is tested for Covid-19 in Stamford, Connecticut, in May.
A 7-year-old boy from Guatemala is tested for Covid-19 in Stamford, Connecticut, in May.John Moore/Getty Images

Late in April, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from New York and several other states to block a new Trump administration rule from taking effect. The revised federal rule prohibits immigrants who receive food, health or housing aid from getting green cards, an expansion of the 19th-century “public charge” rule blocking immigrants deemed liable to rely on the state due to poverty or disabilities.

This latest decision followed a contentious period of public comment and litigation. The court had already ruled by a 5-4 decision in January to allow the rule to proceed; the majority was unmoved by the states’ request to reconsider the rule due to the coronavirus pandemic. Immigration advocates fear that the new public charge rule will dissuade families with mixed citizenship status from applying for aid during an economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression.