WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Trump administration can block thousands of immigrants from receiving public assistance while legal challenges continue.
Under the Department of Homeland Security rule, legal immigrants receiving or deemed likely to need non-cash benefits for more than a year, such as food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers, can be denied residency or green cards.
“To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient," President Donald Trump said when the policy was introduced in August.
It was challenged by officials in California, New York, Illinois, Maryland, Washington State and elsewhere, but only one nationwide injunction from a federal district court in New York remained in effect until Monday.
The Supreme Court wiped that out in a 5-4 ruling opposed by all four liberal justices, and while Chief Justice John Roberts was presiding over Trump's Senate impeachment trial. It does not affect Illinois, where a separate court order has blocked the policy.
Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas wrote separately to make the case that federal district court judges should not be permitted to issue such nationwide injunctions anymore.
"The rise of nationwide injunctions may just be a sign of our impatient times," Gorsuch wrote. "But good judicial decisions are usually tempered by older virtues."
The Justice Department also looked beyond the scope of the high court's verdict in the immigration case to urge an end to nationwide injunctions that are "inappropriate and must be curbed."
The rule, which originally was to take effect last October, allows immigration officials to consider public aid in deciding whether to grant legal assistance, along with other factors such as health, education and household income.
In addition to considering whether an immigrant currently receives benefits, they also can decide if there is a likelihood the person will need assistance in the future.
The current definition of a "public charge" focuses on those who are primarily dependent on government aid. That focuses on people who receive more than half their income or long-term medical care from the government.
Immigration rights groups denounced the court's decision and the Trump administration policy. Carlos Guevara, senior policy advisor at UnidosUS, said the rule "will reshape the immigrant demographics to become both richer and whiter."
Claudia Center, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's disability rights program, said it "enshrines the false stereotype that people with disabilities do not contribute to our society."
And Robert McCaw, government affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the policy "could quite literally kill people by making them too afraid to seek life-saving medical care, and the Supreme Court seems to agree such a cruel system is acceptable."
Earlier last year, the Trump administration instructed agencies to enforce a 1996 law signed by President Bill Clinton that requires sponsors of green card holders to reimburse the government for welfare benefits.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Immigration: Supreme Court lets Trump crack down on public assistance