Supreme Court Allows New Rule that Will Dramatically Reduce Legal Immigration to Take Effect

On January 27, 2020, the Supreme Court lifted a nationwide injunction that had blocked the new “public charge” rule from taking effect  while its legality continues to be litigated in the lower federal courts.  This means that even though it might ultimately be struck down, in the meantime the rule can be applied nationwide, except for those immigrating to Illinois, where a statewide injunction remains in place.

As explained here, the primary effect of the new public charge rule will be to dramatically cut legal immigration to the U.S.  It particularly targets immigrating  immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who ordinarily make up two-thirds of new permanent residents (“green card” holders) each year, by imposing unprecedented new weight to whether a person already is fluent in English, has at least a secondary school education, is older than 18 and younger than 61, and has private, unsubsidized health insurance.

A person lacking those factors can overcome them by showing that the household they will be part of in the U.S. has an income of over 250% of the federal poverty guidelines, which in 2020 is $65,500.  In 2018, the most recent year that data is available, half of all households of native-born U.S. citizens had incomes below that year’s 250% level, and data from 2014-2016 shows that 51% of new immigrants during those years lived in households whose incomes fell below the 250% threshold.  Estimates are that the new rule will cut legal immigration to the U.S. by hundreds of thousands annually. The rule’s new requirements fly in the face of centuries of immigration history that amply prove that an immigrant’s lack of high income, education and English fluency at the time of immigration to the U.S. need not be a barrier to eventual success and contributions to the U.S.

To be clear, to meet that 250% threshold in 2020, an immigrating spouse with limited English of a U.S. citizen would have to show that that household of two has an income of over $43,100.   If the U.S. citizen is the sole wage earner, s/he would need to earn $20.72 per hour, working full-time, to meet that threshold.  Similarly, if a naturalized U.S. citizen single mother with two children petitions to bring her 62 year old mother in order to help with the children, the U.S. citizen will have to show that she is earning over $65,500, or $31.49 per hour working full-time, to meet the 250% threshold needed to overcome the negative weight that the rule gives to those over age 61.   Individuals who cannot meet the income threshold will be denied permanent residency.

With the implementation of this rule, the administration will begin drastically cutting immediate-family immigration, something it has tried and failed to do through legislation.  This, at a time when nationwide unemployment is at record lows, and as Maine completes  a record four straight years of unemployment below 4%

Litigation on the merits of the public charge rule is still ongoing.  For the sake of family unity, and of a strong economy, we must hope that the federal courts will ultimately find the rule is illegal.