Bloomberg Law
Aug. 5, 2020, 8:09 PM

Trump Agency Can Enforce Public Charge Rule, Fourth Circuit Says

Mary Anne Pazanowski
Mary Anne Pazanowski
Legal Reporter

The Trump Administration can, for now, enforce a rule allowing it to deny legal immigration status to noncitizens likely to receive public benefits like Medicaid, public housing assistance, or food stamps for a certain amount of time, the Fourth Circuit said Wednesday.

The Immigration and Nationality Act says that any alien who is “likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible,” the court said. The new Department of Homeland Security rule, which defines “public charge” in a manner that is expected to restrict the number of immigrants legally admitted to the U.S., likely is a permissible interpretation of that provision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit said.

The court reversed a lower court order that had blocked the rule’s enforcement nationwide pending a decision on the rule’s legality. It sent the case back to the trial court for a decision on the merits.

The decision creates a circuit split. It came one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld an order stopping the rule from taking effect in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ordered the agency to stop enforcing the rule in the Chicago area in June.

Two Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, who put off applying for public financial assistance—including student loans—for fear they would be deemed public charges, didn’t show they were likely to succeed on a claim that agency acted improperly in adopting the rule, the Fourth Circuit said in overturning the injunction.

Congress gave the executive branch the power to define and implement the INA and its provisions while “assiduously” resisting giving terms like “public charge” a fixed and definite meaning, the court said. Courts shouldn’t step in and do so, given the executive branch’s authority over immigration, it said.

And, while the definition of “public charge” has changed over time, there was nothing to say the agency’s 2019 interpretation was entirely wrong, the court said.

The U.S. Supreme Court let the new rule take effect in January, blocking lower court injunctions against it. In April, the justices refused to halt the policy because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III wrote the opinion in which Judge Paul V. Niemeyer joined. Judge Robert B. King dissented.

The U.S. Department of Justice represented the government. The Georgetown University Law Center represented the plaintiffs.

The case is Casa de Maryland, Inc. v. Trump, 4th Cir., No. 19-2222, 8/5/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Anne Pazanowski in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at; Nicholas Datlowe at