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Final Victory for San Francisco and Santa Clara County in Challenge to Trump Administration’s “Public Charge” Rule

USDOJ drops appeal, U.S. Supreme Court dismisses case

Santa Clara County, CA (March 9, 2021) —Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera issued the following statements today after the U.S. Department of Justice dropped its appeal regarding a Trump administration rule that sought to impose a wealth test on immigrants entering the country or seeking to adjust their immigration status, such as applying for a green card.

The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case today after the Justice Department dropped its appeal. The federal government under the Trump administration had lost its case to Santa Clara County and San Francisco before the federal district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Today’s result in our public charge case is a huge victory for communities across the country who feared that their use of life-saving public benefits—in the middle of a pandemic—could jeopardize their chance of receiving a green card,” said Williams. “It is also a victory for the rule of law: because the previous administration’s attempt to overturn nearly 140 years of precedent and fundamental principles of administrative law have failed. This case was about protecting the health and wellbeing of our entire community, and today’s victory affirms these core American values.”

“This case is over, and this victory means the American Dream is alive and well,” Herrera said. “This is vindication for everyone who stood up to fight for what is right. The previous administration’s repeated attempts to vilify hardworking immigrants was shameful. It has been repudiated and defeated once again. The previous administration’s attempt to impose a wealth test on immigrants who came here legally was bad for our economy, bad for public health and bad for our country. Hard-working immigrants seeking a better life should not be denied a path to the American dream because of their economic status. They should not be forced to forgo help with food, healthcare and housing out of fear. I think that’s something that people of good will across the country can agree on.” 

Today’s decision came after the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a ruling on Dec. 2, 2020 blocking the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule. The court of appeals’ ruling affirmed a district court decision granting the County of Santa Clara and San Francisco’s request for an injunction to stop the unlawful rule from taking effect.

The County of Santa Clara and San Francisco jointly filed the first case in the nation seeking to block the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s public charge rule. The Counties were later joined by two coalitions led by the States of California and Washington that also challenged the rule. The parties secured an injunction in October 2019 that was later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. 

The Supreme Court and appellate courts have also dismissed all other pending appeals in public charge cases across the country. As a result, the Trump administration’s public charge rule has been vacated nationwide.

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 have rewritten nearly 140 years of legal precedent. It radically expanded 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 broadened the benefits considered to determine if someone is a public charge, covering things like Medicaid or food stamps in an amount as low as 25 cents a day.

By design, the rule coerces individuals to forgo or withdraw from critical benefits and care. DHS itself projected 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 would have been harmed by the rule. It also did not reflect the broader “chilling effect” the rule caused 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 Santa Clara County Counsel’s public charge website: www.sccgov.org/publiccharge or the City Attorney’s website: www.sfcityattorney.org.

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About the Office of the County Counsel

The Office of the County Counsel serves as legal counsel to the County, its Board of Supervisors and elected officials, every County department and agency, and the County’s boards and commissions. With a staff of over 200, the Office is also responsible for all civil litigation involving the County and its officers. Through its Social Justice and Impact Litigation Section, the Office litigates high-impact cases, drafts innovative local ordinances, and develops policies and programs to advance social and economic justice. The Section also defends the County in select cases with the potential to significantly affect the County’s ability to provide critical safety net services to vulnerable residents. The Section is part of a growing movement to use the power and unique perspective of local government to better serve the community and to drive long-lasting change at the local, state, and national levels.

About the County of Santa Clara, California

The County of Santa Clara government serves a diverse, multi-cultural population of 1.9 million residents in Santa Clara County, California – more populous than 14 states. The County provides essential services to its residents, including public health protection, environmental stewardship, medical services through the County of Santa Clara Health System, child and adult protection services, homelessness prevention and solutions, roads, park services, libraries, emergency response to disasters, protection of minority communities and those under threat, access to a fair criminal justice system, and many other public benefits.

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Media Contact: 
County of Santa Clara Contact: María Leticia Gómez/Laurel Anderson, Office of Communications and Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119, sccpublicaffairs@ceo.sccgov.org  

San Francisco Contact: John Coté, (415) 554-4710

Posted: March 9, 2021
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Last updated: 3/10/2021 8:44 AM