Do We Need More Welfare-Dependent Immigrants?

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May 30, 2023

IRLI shows court that Biden’s public charge rule disregards the law

WASHINGTON—Last week, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed a brief in a Texas federal district court showing that a lawsuit by Texas against the Biden administration’s 2022 public charge rule should be allowed to go forward.

Since before this nation’s founding, Americans have excluded aliens likely to be “public charges”—that is, dependent on the government for support. In the 1990s, Congress passed statutes directing that those likely to be public charges should not be accepted as immigrants. In “interpreting” the phrase “public charge” in these statutes, the Clinton administration drastically narrowed it, excluding not all public charges, but only those who depended on cash benefits, as opposed to non-cash benefits such as food stamps. This agency interpretation remained in place for twenty years, under presidents of both parties, until, in 2019, the Trump administration issued a public charge rule aligned with the full meaning of “public charge” intended by Congress.

Activists demanding welfare for aliens immediately sued, and the Supreme Court was set to hear appeals from, and likely reverse, rulings various district courts had issued against Trump’s rule when the administrations changed. Relying on one of these district-court rulings and withdrawing the government’s appeals, the Biden administration claimed Trump’s rule was null and void, and in 2022 it issued a new public charge rule that echoed the earlier Clinton interpretation.

Texas, facing the fiscal consequences of having more welfare recipients in its state, sued. The Biden administration now argues that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case because Texas would not benefit from any ruling the court could reach. Even if Texas succeeded in getting the 2022 public charge rule struck down, the administration argues, the 2019 Trump rule would not be resurrected because a court had declared it null and void. Instead, the administration seems to assume, things would revert back to the Clinton interpretation, leaving Texas no better off.

In its brief, IRLI takes aim at this argument. Because the Clinton interpretation disregards the law just as much as the 2022 rule does, that interpretation would not govern if the 2022 rule were struck down. Rather, the statutory meaning of “public charge,” as properly explicated by the court, would be the controlling authority, making the lessening of Texas’s fiscal burdens more likely.

“From colonial times onwards, America has insisted that settlers and immigrants be self-sufficient, not taxpayer-dependent,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “This rule has served our nation well, but in recent decades it hasn’t been enforced—except under President Trump—to the point where immigrant households are now more dependent on public assistance than native households. We hope the court sees how much this administration and most earlier ones have disregarded the law, and strikes down Biden’s reversion to prior bad practice.”

The case is Texas v. Mayorkas, No. 6:23-cv-00001 (S.D. Tex.).

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