The Supreme Court this week has denied at least for the time being, a bid by Texas and 13 other states to defend a controversial Trump-era rule that makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use certain public benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.  The court ruled that the states had to go to the lower court to make their request.  Last month, court agreed to dismiss a pending challenge to the so-called “public charge” rule at the request of the Biden administration, which changed its position in the case.  Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has said at the time that the 2019 public charge rule “was not in keeping with our nation’s values.”  Texas has filed a slew of lawsuits challenging President Joe Biden’s immigration policies and attempted to intervene and defend the public charge rule.

The “public charge” provision dates back at least to the Immigration Act of 1882. Federal lawmakers at the time wanted to make sure that immigrants would be able to take care of themselves and not end up being a public burden.  Under current regulations put in place in 1996, the term is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income.  But it only counted cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. The Trump administration’s rule, issued in 2019, widened the definition of who is expected to be dependent on the government by including more benefit programs. In some cases, immigrant families avoided public benefit programs, like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, in fear of risking future green card status, according to research from the Urban Institute.  For now at least, it seems that this public charge rule will not be enforced nearly as strict under President Biden compared to former President Trump.