NEW YORK (AP) — A judge correctly struck down a new Department of Homeland Security rule that went into effect earlier this year denying green cards to legal immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps and other forms of public assistance, an appeals court said Tuesday.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an October ruling by Judge George B. Daniels but only let it apply to New York, Vermont and Connecticut, conforming with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that let the rule take effect in February.
The appeals court said the rule has already had an irreparable chilling effect on non-citizen use of public benefits.
The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that the rule will likely result in worse health outcomes, including increased obesity and malnutrition, the spread of communicable diseases and increased rates of poverty and housing instability, the court noted.
“To say the least, the public interest does not favor the immediate implementation of the Rule,” it said.
The rule to deny permanent residency to those receiving various forms of public assistance has been successfully challenged by five lawsuits nationwide.
The 2nd Circuit said the Department of Homeland Security failed to provide a reasoned explanation for significantly expanding what constitutes a “public charge” or someone destined to rely on public assistance.
Under old rules, people who used non-cash benefits, including food stamps and Medicaid, were not penalized.
The three-judge panel said the states of New York, Connecticut, Vermont and New York City, along with five non-profit organizations that provide legal and social services to non-citizens, were likely to prove the new rule was “arbitrary and capricious.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
In a ruling written by Circuit Judge Gerard E. Lynch, the 2nd Circuit said the Department of Homeland Security and Congress have “dramatically different notions” of what it means to be a “public charge.”
Congress, it said, believes the term applies to a non-citizen who cannot earn a livelihood and lacks sufficient funds or anyone willing to assure that public support would not be needed.
The Department of Homeland Security believes it applies to anyone likely to access any quantity of benefits for a limited number of months, even if the benefits have relatively generous eligibility criteria meant to assist those living well above the poverty level, the 2nd Circuit said.
The appeals court said the definition of a “public charge” was well-defined by 1996 to exclude benefits designed to supplement an individual’s or family’s efforts to support themselves rather than to deal with their likely permanent inability to do so. It noted that 60% of Medicaid recipients who are not children, older adults or people with disabilities are employed.
The 2nd Circuit said the Department of Homeland Security now “makes receipt of a broad range of public benefits on even a short-term basis the very definition of ‘public charge.’ That exceedingly broad definition is not in accordance with the law.”