An Illinois federal court struck down Trump's 'public charge' rule. Justice Amy Coney Barrett could help grant the ruling another stay.

An Illinois federal court struck down Trump's 'public charge' rule. Justice Amy Coney Barrett could help grant the ruling another stay.
President Donald Trump and White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller.Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • A federal judge in Illinois' Cook County on Monday struck down the Trump administration's "public charge" expansion, arguing that it was discriminatory. The public-charge rule restricts immigration rights for people who use government benefits after arriving in the US.
  • The Department of Homeland Security is required to stop enforcing the rule nationally, but advocates say the legal battle will continue whether Trump wins the election or not.
  • Justice Amy Coney Barrett previously dissented in favor of the Trump administration while serving as a Cook County judge, and she may get to opine on the case if it is brought back before the Supreme Court.
  • The rule is one of the key tenets of the White House advisor Stephen Miller's immigration platform and has generated confusion and fear in immigrant communities as the policy is litigated and appealed by the Trump administration.

On Monday, a US district judge in Illinois' Cook County struck down the Trump administration's public-charge rule. Judge Gary S. Feinerman ruled that the administration was discriminating against low-income immigrants and violated the Administrative Procedure Act.

The ruling provides momentary relief for immigrants and advocates, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, after the Supreme Court had provided a stay for the Trump administration's broadened definition of a public charge in February.

The rule, under a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, has enabled previous administrations to reject permanent-residency applications by immigrants who are deemed to be a public charge, or a financial burden on society.

Under new rules from the Trump administration, starting in late 2018, immigration agencies were given expanded authority to deny visas and green cards to immigrants considered likely to use public benefits like Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or to live in Section 8 housing.

If these public benefits were used for more than 12 months combined in any three-year period, or if a family with an applicant received two different forms of public assistance in a month, the administration could freely deny applications for permanent residency.


The ruling strikes down a stay granted by the Supreme Court in February after the policy was blocked in several rulings. Challenging what is long seen to be one of the White House advisor Stephen Miller's signature immigration platforms, Feinerman deemed the expansion of what is considered a public charge overly broad and added that the Department of Homeland Security failed to consider "significant, predictable collateral consequences."

Cook County and the Illinois Coalition for Refugee Rights initially challenged the legality of Trump's expansion of public charge on September 23, 2019. Weeks later, Feinerman granted an initial order blocking the rule in Illinois. Parallel lawsuits were brought against the Trump administration across the nation until the Supreme Court granted a stay to the administration this past February, allowing the rule to take effect.

In June, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, then a circuit judge in the 7th Circuit, dissented in Cook County v. Wolf, defending the Trump administration's expansion of the rule (the administration's appeal was unsuccessful).

"Justice Amy Barrett just got a promotion," Fred Tsao, the senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, told Business Insider. "I think we know where she stands, and the case is almost certain to be brought before the Supreme Court again," he added.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and its litigating partners expect the Trump administration to appeal even if Trump loses his reelection bid.


"What changes now is that visa and permanent-residency applicants don't have to fill out a 20 page I-944 application stating their self-sufficiency," Tsao said. "This will hopefully dispel a lot of the confusion this rule is creating for green-card holders, or children and spouses of undocumented people who fear what the impact of those benefits would have on their families."

In the immediate term, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed to BuzzFeed News that the agency "has ceased applying the public charge final rule to pending applications and petitions following a Nov. 2, 2020, order by the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that vacated the rule."

In a statement issued after the ruling, Carrie Chapman, the senior director of litigation and advocacy at Legal Council for Health Justice, said that "in today's economy, no one should be afraid to seek healthcare, food, or housing assistance for fear of becoming a public charge."