WASHINGTON—A divided Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration to begin implementing rules that make it easier for the government to deny limited-income immigrants residency or admission to the U.S. because they use public-assistance programs or might use them in the future.
The court, in a written order Monday, granted the administration’s emergency request to start enforcing the rules for now, a move that nullifies an order by a federal appeals court that blocked the immigration restrictions while litigation was ongoing.
The court’s action came on a 5-to-4 vote, splitting the justices along ideological lines, with conservatives in the majority.
Announced last August by the Department of Homeland Security, the rules effectively expand the pool of people considered likely to become a “public charge” under U.S. immigration law. The government can use the designation to deny an immigrant a green card for permanent U.S. residency, and to determine which noncitizens can be removed or barred from the U.S.
Using benefits like Medicaid, housing assistance or food stamps could render a person inadmissible.
Foreigners seeking immigration status in the U.S. generally have to show they have enough financial resources to keep them from relying on government programs that assist poor Americans. The denial of immigration visas on “public charge” grounds has increased during the Trump administration, even before the new rules.
Several judges issued preliminary rulings last October that blocked the Trump administration policy. Some, but not all, of those rulings had been put on hold by higher courts.
In the case that prompted the Trump administration’s emergency appeal, a federal judge in New York found the rule departed from longstanding policy without legal justification and “is repugnant to the American dream.”
U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in Supreme Court papers that the regulation was a lawful and reasonable exercise of executive authority. Blocking the rules, even during litigation, harmed the government by forcing it to grant immigration status to people who shouldn’t have it, Mr. Francisco said.
Mr. Francisco also attacked the practice of lower courts issuing nationwide injunctions, saying a court in one district shouldn’t be able to block a regulation across the U.S.
The public charge rule has faced legal challenges around the country. The case before the high court stemmed from lawsuits brought by the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont, as well as New York City and organizations that assist immigrants.
New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood said in a high-court brief that the administration’s definition of who is a public charge “is a stark departure from a more-than-century-long consensus that has limited the term to individuals who are primarily dependent on the government for long-term subsistence.”
Ms. Underwood also argued there was no urgent need to let the administration implement the rules while legal proceedings are ongoing.
The Supreme Court’s action isn’t a final ruling on the merits of the case, but it does suggest the Trump administration faces at least decent legal prospects of winning.
Public-charge litigation around the country so far has tended to split judges along ideological lines, with conservatives more willing to give the administration latitude under provisions of federal immigration law that grant broad authority to the executive branch.
Monday’s high court action means the Trump administration can move forward with the public-charge rules everywhere but Illinois, where another legal hurdle remains in place for now.
The case marks the latest of nearly two dozen instances in which the administration has sought emergency intervention from the Supreme Court after lower courts stymied its policies and enforcement plans. The high court has granted the administration room to implement several high-profile initiates, but not others.
Write to Brent Kendall at [email protected]
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