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Source and Scope of Public Health Legal Powers

City & County of San Francisco v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services


City & County of San Francisco v. U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (N.D. Cal. Oct. 11, 2019): A federal district court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) public charge rule from taking effect. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) an “alien” who is a “public charge” is inadmissible. DHS’ rule redefined “public charge” to mean an individual who receives a specified public benefit for over 12 months in the aggregate in a 36-month period. Under the rule, receiving 2 public benefits within 1 month counted as 2 months of public benefits. DHS also expanded the meaning of “public benefits” to include most forms of Medicaid and other benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The court found that some of the plaintiffs’ claims that the rule violates the federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA) were likely to succeed on their merits. Specifically, it found the rule was not a reasonable or permissible construction of the term “public charge” as used in the INA given: (i) the history of the term, including a longstanding focus on an individual’s ability and willingness to work and allowances for short-term aid; and (ii) Congress had previously rejected similar “public charge” definitions. The court also found DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously by failing to consider the rule’s costs to state and local governments, costs associated with Medicaid disenrollment rates, and its negative public health consequences, such as lower vaccination rates. Read the decision here.

View all cases in the Judicial Trends in Public Health – November 15, 2019.

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