KEY POINTS

  • Conservative justices in the Supreme Court uphold the controversial "public charge" rule of the Trump administration
  • Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, condemn the ruling
  • The ruling gives the federal government more power to deny visas or green cards to immigrants

Conservatives in the divided U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the expansion of the "public charge" rule promoted by the Trump administration to deter immigration into the United States from poorer countries. They voted 5-4 along political affiliation lines to lift a lower court's nationwide injunction against the policy, and ruled the new public charge policy can be enforced.

This immigration restriction has been assailed by its critics as a “wealth test” for immigrants ever since the rule was announced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in August 2019. The Trump administration's policy constitutes a dramatic and draconian shift in immigration policy, claim its critics.

The most fervid opponents of the public charge policy are calling it "white supremacist social engineering aimed at excluding and decimating poor, predominantly nonwhite immigrants." Others called the rule a "wealth test, designed to screen out green card applicants seen as being at risk of becoming 'public charges'."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, herself the child of Puerto Rican parents and a vocal opponent of anti-immigrant policies, assailed conservatives in the Supreme Court for their votes, condemning the 5-4 decision as “shameful” in a tweet.

"This is shameful. America shouldn’t have a wealth test for admission. It’s a place where millions of people are descendants of immigrants who came with nothing and made a life. The American Dream isn’t a private club with a cover charge - it’s the possibility of remaking your future," said Ocasio-Cortez in a tweet.

She was joined in her criticism by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, who also assailed the vote. He pointed out the “country was built by immigrants" and demanded a reversal of "these Trump programs."

"This country was built by immigrants. The American people want comprehensive, humane immigration reform. We must reverse these Trump programs which are designed to demonize and hurt those who are the most vulnerable of all."

USCIS defines a “public charge” as an immigrant who received one or more designated benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. The new policy will make it much harder for legal immigrants to obtain green cards (or gain legal status) if they use, or have ever used, public benefits such as food programs and Medicaid.

It will give the federal government more power to deny visas or green cards if it believes immigrants will rely on public assistance such as food stamps and taxpayer-funded health care benefits or housing programs.

US Senator Bernie Sanders, shown campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination with congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, raised more than any Democrat in the White House race in 2019, but trailed President Donald Trump US Senator Bernie Sanders, shown campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination with congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, raised more than any Democrat in the White House race in 2019, but trailed President Donald Trump Photo: AFP / Robyn Beck