Federal judge halts public charge rule due to COVID-19

A federal judge in New York on Wednesday halted the Trump administration from enacting its controversial rule penalizing legal immigrants for using Medicaid or other public programs.

U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels in Manhattan refused to throw out a lawsuit challenging the so-called “public charge” rule and granted an injunction to hold off on the immigration changes, citing the coronavirus pandemic.

“What were previously theoretical harms have proven to be true. We no longer need to imagine the worst-case scenario; we are experiencing its dramatic effects in real time,” Daniels wrote.

Daniels also wrote that the public charge rule could separate families indefinitely, which qualifies as irreparable harm.

The rule is meant to prevent people who look like they will need public assistance from legally immigrating to the U.S. Plaintiffs challenging the rule claimed it had made it more difficult for immigrants to receive COVID-19 testing and care.

In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could move forward with the public charge plans as the case continued to wend its way through the courts, striking down a nationwide injunction on the plan.

But Daniels ruled in favor of a nationwide injuction, saying a narrow, geographically limited injuction is “especially unworkable” in an immigration situation.

Ultimately, COVID-19 worsened the situation leading to a new injunction. Daniels said the government showed it knew the rule could damage public health.

“Moreover, the government’s decision to craft a special exemption to the public charge framework for coronavirus is an implicit acknowledgment that the public health risks outweigh any motive to dissuade immigrants from accessing public health benefits,” the judge wrote.