Federal Appeals Court rules in favor of San Francisco and Santa Clara County in challenge to Trump administration’s ‘public charge’ rule

Today’s victory blocks the federal government from denying entry or green cards to immigrants in California and more than a dozen other states who use assistance programs like non-emergency Medicaid or food stamps

SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 2, 2020) — San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams issued the following statements today after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling blocking the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule. The ruling affirmed a district court decision granting Santa Clara County and San Francisco’s request for an injunction to stop the unlawful rule from taking effect.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera

“Today’s decision puts the brakes on the Trump administration’s cruel and illegal public charge rule and affirms more than 140 years of legal precedent,” Herrera said. “The Trump administration’s attempt to change the rule is not only unlawful; it’s bad for our economy, bad for public health and bad for our country. Hard-working immigrants and their families seeking a better life should not be denied a path to the American dream because of their economic status. The poem on the Statue of Liberty does not include a wealth test. The Trump administration’s attempt to create one was a betrayal of the American dream.”

“The Trump Administration’s policies have continuously threatened the health and well-being of the communities we serve,” said Williams. “This is true on issues like COVID-19, and also true of the Trump Administration’s unlawful and cruel immigration policies. From this Administration’s first day in office to its last, we will continue fighting to protect all of our residents.”

San Francisco and the County of Santa Clara jointly filed the first case in the nation seeking to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s public charge rule. They secured an injunction in October 2019 that was later stayed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Today’s decision affirms the lower court’s injunction and lifts the stay of the injunction. At oral argument before the Ninth Circuit, the Counties were joined by two coalitions led by the States of California and Washington that also challenged the rule.

Case Background
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a new rule on “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” on Aug. 12, 2019 that would rewrite nearly 140 years of legal precedent. It radically expands the grounds upon which a person can be deemed a “public charge,” and thus denied entry into the U.S. or adjustment of their immigration status, including receiving a green card. For decades, “public charge” meant an individual who was “primarily dependent” on the government for survival. The assessment of whether someone was a public charge was based on two kinds of public aid: long-term institutionalization or direct cash assistance. In other words, the term “public charge” meant someone who was housed in a publicly funded medical institution or was dependent on a cash benefit, like Supplemental Security Income, which helps seniors and blind and disabled people who have little or no income. A public charge did not mean someone who merely receives some publicly funded, supplemental benefits.

Without authorization from Congress or the reasoned analysis required by statute, the rule unlawfully broadens the benefits considered to determine if someone is a public charge. It would hold it against an immigrant if they received health benefits like Medicaid or food stamps in amounts as low as 25 cents a day.

By design, the rule coerces individuals to forgo or withdraw from critical benefits and care. DHS itself projects that the rule will cause more than 320,000 noncitizens receiving health-promoting benefits to stop using them. Still, this projection grossly underestimates the number of people who will be harmed. It also doesn’t reflect the broader “chilling effect” the rule causes by spreading fear and misinformation.

The case is City and County of San Francisco and County of Santa Clara v. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, 4:19-cv-04717; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 19-35914, filed Aug. 13, 2019. Additional documentation from the case is available on the City Attorney’s website: www.sfcityattorney.org or on the Santa Clara County Counsel’s public charge website: www.sccgov.org/publiccharge.

# # #