Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule denying green cards to immigrants that need food stamps or other public benefits.

Trump Administration's Makes changes to Public Charge Rule

Written by Taher Kameli & Chathan Vemuri

Over the past year, immigration activists have steadfastly opposed the Trump Administration’s changes to the Public Charge Rule, which denied green card applicants who would likely use various types of public assistance, such as Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers.[1] Legal challenges have been especially persistent, with the first wave of lawsuits leading to a hold placed on the policy by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which was in turn reversed by the Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote in January 2020.[2]



Concern was expressed by more conservative members of the Bench as to nationwide injunctions by lower federal courts in specific areas that apply everywhere, as well as by supporters of the ruling who alleged that judges were allegedly “imposing policy preferences” rather than neutrally enforcing the law.[3] Yet this setback did not stop activists from challenging the government’s revised “public charge” rule.  In the latest development, immigration activists here in Chicago were able to achieve an important victory against the government’s Public Charge Rule from the federal circuit.



The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois ruled to strike down the Trump Administration’s Public Charge Rule denying green cards to immigrants that need food stamps or other public benefits.[4] In the Opinion for the case of Cook Cty. v. Wolf, District Court Judge Gary Feinerman ruled that that the Public Charge rule violated the Administrative Procedures Act, upholding a decision on this issued by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.[5] Applying the Seventh Circuit’s rationale, the District Court found that the Public Charge Rule was unreasonably ambiguous in that it included those who temporarily received supplemental benefits as opposed to a more stringing definition of public charge that requires proof of more substantial reliance.[6]



Meanwhile, it also expressed concern over the ability of the Department of Homeland Security to define “public charge” however it chose.[7] As such, the District Court upheld the Seventh Circuit’s ruling that the Public Charge Rule was “substantially and procedurally defective under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and that due to various enumerated flaws, it was likely to fail the “arbitrary and capricious standard.”[1]



The core part of this case, however, with regards to the Public Charge Rule, concerned the extent of the ruling’s applicability, which the District Court expanded to across the country.[2] The Defendant, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Plaintiffs, a collection of pro-immigration and public interest groups led by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Inc. as well as the government for Cook County, both disagreed on how far the ruling would apply. [3]



The Defendant argued that its application only extended as far as the State of Illinois whereas the Plaintiffs argued that it applied across the nation.[4] The District Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs by looking at the language of the APA.[5] The Court looked at the relevant article in the APA which stated that: “The reviewing court shall…hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be…arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”[6] Pace the Defendant, it interpreted “set aside” as not being limited to a particular plaintiff or geographic area but as a setting aside of the rule period, implicitly applying across the entire country.[7]



Furthermore, the word “shall” was interpreted as creating a mandate for the reviewing Court to follow, not a decision it could pursue at its own discretion.[8] These interpretations, along with earlier federal court precedent, helped the District Court come to the conclusion that the “vacatur of agency” applied nationwide in terms of interpreting administrative rules.[9] It rejected the Defendant’s argument that earlier Seventh Circuit precedent limited the “vacatur of agency” to particular plaintiffs and states, as opposed to parts of the agency action itself.[10] The Defendant likened the Seventh Circuit ruling to a Fourth Circuit ruling and a concurrence from some justices on the Supreme Court criticizing nationwide injunctions applied nationally by individual federal courts.[11]



However, the Court rejected that argument as well, finding that the precedent cited only dealt with preliminary relief as opposed to vacating rules after full judgment on the merits.[12] With that, the Court vacated the Government’s Public Charge Rule and established its vacatur as applying across the country.[13]



Immigration and other social justice advocates, as well as the government for Cook County all, praised the ruling for bringing victory and justice for immigrant families[1] kept separated by what some have called a “wealth test” that admitted and excluded migrants on account of whether they were well to do or poor.[2] Yet despite its nationwide applicability, experts already expect the decision to be appealed.[3] Considerable concern exists regarding this possibility as the new Trump appointee to the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, was the sole dissenting justice in the original Seventh Circuit decision of Cook Cty. v. Wolf while she served on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.[4]



In addition, there is concern she could vote the same way should this case be appealed to the Supreme Court[5], where there is already a substantial Conservative majority even without Barrett. Although Barrett would probably recuse herself, given her previous involvement with this case at the Seventh Circuit, a conservative majority on the Court would nevertheless pose a formidable challenge to this decision and its supporters in terms of maintaining it as a nationwide mandate.



Please fill out the form below or give us a call at +1 (312)-233-1000 if you have any questions about the District Court’s ruling and what it may mean for you, your family, or anyone else that you know.

[1] Joe Kelly, Illinois Federal Judge Vacates Public-Charge Immigration Rule, Courthouse News Service (Nov. 2, 2020) available at


[2] Sophia Tareen, US Judge Blocks Trump Immigration Rule on Public Benefits, Assoc. Press (Nov. 2, 2020) available at

[3] Joe Kelly, Illinois Federal Judge Vacates Public-Charge Immigration Rule, Courthouse News Service (Nov. 2, 2020) available at

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[1] Id. at 9-10. (Such flaws that were deemed a violation of the “arbitrary and capricious” standard include: “DHS did not adequately consider the reliance of state and local governments; did not acknowledge or address the significant, predictable collateral consequences of the Rule; incorporated into the term ‘Public Charge’ an understanding of self-sufficiency that has no basis in the statute it supposedly interprets; and failed to address critical issues such as the relevance of the five-year waiting period for immigrant eligibility for most federal benefits.”)

[2] Id. at 15.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 10-11.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 11.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 11-15.

[10] Id. at 12-13.

[11] Id. at 13-14.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at 15.

[1] Jill Colvin and Coleen Long, New Rules to Deny Green Cards to Many Legal Immigrants, Assoc. Press (Aug. 12, 2019) available at

[2] Mark Sherman, Supreme Court Allows Enforcement of New Green Card Rule, Assoc. Press (Jan. 27, 2020) available at

[3] Id.

[4] Sophia Tareen, US Judge Blocks Trump Immigration Rule on Public Benefits, Assoc. Press (Nov. 2, 2020) available at

[5] Cook Cty. v. Wolf, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 203434, 8-15 (Nov. 2, 2020)

[6] Id. at 9.

[7] Id.

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