Trump-era ‘wealth test’ for immigrants dies in 4th Circuit

Motion by Republican AGs to intervene is denied

By: - March 18, 2021 8:54 pm

The U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. (Image via U.S. Supreme Court website)

A legal dispute over the so-called “wealth test” for immigrants died in the United States 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday after the court denied a motion by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and other Republican state AGs that would have kept alive an appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked the policy.

Landry, along with AGs from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia, had moved to intervene as defendants in the case to appeal a nationwide injunction that blocked enforcement of the 2019 public charge rule. 

The public charge rule was a Donald Trump-era immigration policy that required immigrants in the U.S. to prove they could financially support themselves and would deny visas or green cards if the government found them to be relying or at risk of relying on Medicaid or other public assistance. 

The “public charge” term was first included in U.S. law in the early 1880s when the government started regulating immigration, including banning most Chinese immigrants under the premise that they “endangered the good order” of American communities.

According to a 1999 Interim Field Guidance, a public charge was defined as a person likely to become primarily dependent on the government for income support such as welfare or long-term care. Trump’s 2019 rule redefined public charge to refer to as a person who has received or is likely to receive any number of public benefits for more than an aggregate of 12 months over any 36-month period. Each benefit used counted toward the 12-month calculation. For instance, if an applicant received two different benefits in one month, that counted as two-months’ use of benefits. Benefits that counted under the Trump rule — but not under the 1999 Interim Field Guidance — included Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Section 8 housing assistance and federally-subsidized housing.

The Biden administration removed the rule, effective March 9, and the Department of Homeland Security announced on March 11 it would no longer apply the rule. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Justice notified the federal courts that it would no longer be defending the case, prompting the Republican AGs to try to intervene. 

On Monday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the motion by the AGs and dismissed the appeal.

According to a study published last month by the Urban Institute, the Trump administration’s policy intensified immigrants’ reluctance to participate in public programs. Over 13% of adults in immigrant households reported foregoing government aid in 2020 because of fear it would jeopardize their immigration cases, according to the study.

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the following 22 years since then, he has worked as a journalist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. Much of his work has involved reporting on First Amendment issues and watchdog coverage of municipal and state government. He has received several honors and recognitions, including McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association, among others. Muller is a New Orleans native, a Jesuit High School alumnus, a University of New Orleans alumnus, a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper, and an adjunct English teacher at Baton Rouge Community College. He lives in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, with his teenage son and his wife, who is also a journalist.

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