Perhaps you saw the headlines on Monday, Jan. 27, that the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, has green-lighted Trump’s proposal to deny green cards to immigrants who’ve accessed federal benefits, including Medicaid, supplemental nutritional assistance (food stamps/EBT cards), and housing assistance. Needless to say, this is yet another piece of Trump’s overall attack on immigrants and immigration, and it’s also thrown into panic service agencies nationwide, including HIV agencies, who serve immigrants.
However, if you or someone you know and/or serve at an agency is an immigrant who is seeking, or may someday seek, both such benefits and a green card, you should take a deep breath, according to Gabriel Guimaraes, staff attorney at New York City’s African Services Committee, which serves immigrants, including many living with HIV. (We profiled them recently here).
The first thing you should know, he says, is that this applies mostly to people who may soon send in a green card application. Simply put, “You shouldn’t do it without talking to an attorney,” he says. (Reach out to your local HIV, immigration, or other service agencies to find out if and where you can find a low- or no-cost immigration attorney.)
“If you’re not applying for a green card tomorrow, you’re probably not going to be affected by this,” he says.
The other thing you should know, he says, is that though news outlets reported the Supreme Court ruling as a done deal—the 5-4 split definitely reflects the new conservative majority on the court, as 5-4 splits previously usually favored the liberal direction—it’s a little more complicated.
According to Guimaraes, what the Supreme Court actually said was that the previous injunction (freeze) on the Trump proposal imposed by lower courts has been lifted and that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that oversees this policy, may now implement it. As of this writing, the morning of Feb. 28, they have not yet done so, according to the unrevised advisory at the top of their web page, but that is where you should look to see if anything changes.
It is likely that USCIS will implement the policy, says Guimaraes—but, importantly, in all but one U.S. judicial district (Illinois), where the case is still up in the air. It would be highly irregular, he says, if USCIS implemented the policy in all but one district nationwide. And, he adds, the matter is far from settled in courts. The Supreme Court still has to rule on another aspect of the policy—we know, we know, we barely understand this ourselves.[Also, he notes, it's a longstanding precedent that the U.S. president may not put in place policy that Congress has specifically rejected.]
In the big picture, says Guimaraes, the Jan. 27 ruling “is not a judgment on the policy” per se, “or the way that Trump wants to change it.”
Another important thing to know is that the policy does not apply to recipients of the HIV-serving Ryan White CARE Act (including the ADAP drug program), or to so-called “emergency” Medicaid, both of which serve undocumented immigrants as well as documented ones and U.S. citizens.
And many of America’s most vulnerable immigrants with HIV get a lot of their key services—including, sometimes, nutrition, transportation, and housing assistance—via Ryan White. So that’s a good thing.
So there you have it: Immigrants with or without HIV contemplating a green card application should talk to a lawyer.
And I’ll also say this: If you’re thinking that this is one more reason why a certain cruel, destructive, immigrant-hating, health and services–sabotaging occupant of the White House needs to be ousted in November, you’re absolutely right.