Supreme Court Rejection of GOP Attempt to Legally Defend the Trump Expansion of the Public Charge Rule is a Welcome Yet Insufficient Development

By Taher KameliChathan Vemuri


In a further demonstration of the Biden era Federal Government’s rejection of Trump-era restrictive changes to US immigration policy, the US Supreme Court turned down an attempt from several Republican states to defend the Trump-era expansion of the public charge rule.[1] Under the Trump administration’s rule, immigrants were denied the use of several public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps.[2] Furthermore, they were required to prove that they had enough means to not rely on government assistance in the future.[3] Such a policy had the effect of filtering out lower-income immigrants from poorer nations given their likeliness to require the use of public benefits and social programs.[4]


The general public charge rule was in place well before the Trump administration started, since the 19th century.[5] The rule was greatly expanded in the 1990s when immigration officials made determinations about whether someone would be dependent on government assistance based on age, health, family status, financial status, education, skills and other factors. Since 1999, a person trying to immigrate could be potentially banned if they were found to be likely to be dependent on such benefits. However, with the Trump administration’s changes to the rule, the number of programs a potential immigrant may make use of, had been expanded drastically, covering social services such as food programs, health care, education and shelter.[6] Also, the Trump Administration’s revised rule set income requirements for immigrant families, biasing the system in favor of wealthier immigrants[7] and excluding poorer ones who disproportionately originated from countries in the global south and were of color. Either way, the public charge rule meant forcing immigrants to forego key welfare benefits necessary for a sustainable living standard in order to come here, or possibly get those benefits at the expense of leaving their families behind to avoid violating the income caps.[8] This revised rule was blocked in federal district court, with the Trump-led Department of Homeland Security appealing the decision, yet the incoming Biden administration decided not to continue defending the rule, allowing it to expire.[9]


Yet in spite of its being dropped by the US Government and overturned by several federal courts, 14 states with Republican governments have requested the Supreme Court to permit the states to uphold Trump’s amended rule, arguing that overturning it would harm their states.[10] Leading the charge to do so was Texas, who led the other states in filing a lawsuit to revive Trump’s Public Charge Rule, arguing that the Government’s rescinding of the rule was a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and that Texas’s budget for services would explode if too many people applied for social programs, costing millions of dollars to taxpayers.[11] The Supreme Court however declined to review the lawsuit after its defeat in lower courts.

However, the Supreme Court did indicate that states could continue to defend the rule in lower district courts as well as seek review in a renewed application to the Supreme Court.[12] This carved the way to allow Republican advocates to continue fighting for Trump-era rule.[13]

On the one hand, this is a victory for immigrant rights activists who argue for immigrants to have the right to all the social programs necessary for a quality standard of living, same as other residents of the United States. It also allows immigrants who need said benefits, such as poorer families, to take advantage of them to their betterment. On the other hand, however, the Supreme Court’s permission to Republican advocates to continue fighting for the changed rule in lower courts such as the Court of Appeals and later renewed application to the Supreme Court indicates a limitation to the Supreme Court’s choice as well as a glaring flaw in the US immigration system: the existence of a public charge rule to begin with. Immigrants arriving to the US to stay should have every right to benefit from the same social programs as those among whom they seek citizenship, given how fundamental they are to human life. Food programs, education, housing and health care are all basic needs for living and to restrict immigration based on those needs cruelly excludes large swathes of people from this country who are in desperate need of such services due in part to lacking them back in their countries of origin. The Public Charge Rule’s very nature also biases immigration towards those with means, potentially discriminating against many immigrants of particular backgrounds such as Hispanic, refugees from the Middle East or Africa, who may not have those skills or may need those programs. It unofficially continues the racial bias that continues to haunt US immigration.


As a result, while one should welcome the Supreme Court’s decision as another blow to Trump-era immigration policies as part of an effort to turn a page on them, one must be cognizant of the clear limitations of current government policy and judicial rulings on the public charge rule and think about more lasting solutions to the debate over “public charges.” Simply dismissing a suit while allowing them to continue litigating at the lower courts with the possibility of refiling is not enough. A fundamental critique of the public charge rule is needed if we are going to make the US immigration system inclusive and responsive to all peoples’ needs, not just those of a select class.



Please contact the Kameli Law at or please give us a call at 312-233-1000 if you have any further questions about the Supreme Court’s refusal or about the Public Charge Rule in general.




[1] Simon, Caroline, Supreme Court Rejects GOP Attempt to Defend Public Charge Rule, Roll Call (Apr. 26, 2021, 3:02 PM) available at

[2] Ibe, Peniel, Supreme Court Allows Trump Administration to Move Forward with Cruel “Public Charge” Rule, American Friends Service Committee (upd. Feb. 24, 2020) available at


[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Simon, Caroline, Supreme Court Rejects GOP Attempt to Defend Public Charge Rule, Roll Call (Apr. 26, 2021, 3:02 PM) available at

[10] Id.

[11] Farrick, Ryan J., Supreme Court Will Not Review Texas-Led Lawsuit to Revive Trump’s “Public Charge” Rule, Legal Reader (May 6, 2021) available at

[12] Simon, Caroline, Supreme Court Rejects GOP Attempt to Defend Public Charge Rule, Roll Call (Apr. 26, 2021, 3:02 PM) available at


[13] Simon, Caroline, Supreme Court Rejects GOP Attempt to Defend Public Charge Rule, Roll Call (Apr. 26, 2021, 3:02 PM) available at


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