Judge blocks Trump move to deny green cards to recipients of government benefits
Under the Trump administration’s measure, immigrants will be scrutinized for their use of food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, and housing assistance. | John Moore/Getty Images
By TED HESSON
10/11/2019 03:04 PM EDT
Updated: 10/11/2019 05:46 PM EDT
Three separate federal judges on Friday blocked a Trump administration regulation that permits immigration officials to deny green cards to immigrants who receive certain government benefits.
The rulings will prevent the so-called public charge regulation from taking effect as scheduled on Oct. 15. Under the measure, immigrants will be scrutinized for their use of food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, and housing assistance — or the likelihood they might use such benefits in the future.
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Judges in New York and Washington State both issued nationwide injunctions blocking the policy. A third judge in California limited her ruling to the plaintiffs’ states and counties.
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In a 24-page order, Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge George Daniels said the Trump administration likely exceeded its authority when it expanded the guidelines for determining who should be labeled a public charge.
Daniels wrote the Trump administration failed to explain why it was changing the definition of a public charge or why the change was needed now. Furthermore, he ripped the administration’s new standard, saying it “has absolutely no support in the history of U.S. immigration law.”
“The rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification,” he wrote.
The three decisions deal a blow to Trump’s attempt to rework the legal immigration system to exclude poorer immigrants and increase skill-based admissions. White House senior adviser Stephen Miller considers the regulation a top priority and lambasted Trump officials last year for not moving fast enough to put it into effect.
Critics argue the public charge regulation will discourage immigrants and their family members from accessing food and health care, even in cases when they’re entitled to receive it. Local health providers said last year that they saw enrollment drop in a federal nutrition program for pregnant people and children following the release of a draft version of the measure.
The rulings come after Trump issued a proclamation last week that will require immigrants to prove they can obtain health insurance before they are issued a green card, a move that targets a similar population as the public charge regulation. POLITICO reported Friday that officials who oversee the nation’s health insurance markets have raised concerns privately that the insurance mandate — set to go into effect Nov. 3 — could be unworkable or even illegal.
The New York ruling will keep the policy blocked nationwide, at least temporarily. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but likely will appeal the decision.
Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli argued in a written statement Friday that the regulation ultimately would be upheld.
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“Long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed,” he said. “An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law.”
In the New York decision, Daniels, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, said plaintiffs in a pair of related cases likely would suffer irreparable harm if the regulation was allowed to go forward. The lawsuits were brought by the states of New York, Connecticut, Vermont, the city of New York, and New York-based advocacy groups and service providers.
New York State Attorney General Tish James lauded the decision in a tweet Friday.
“This rule would have had devastating impacts on New Yorkers and our nation,“ she wrote, “and today’s decision is a critical step in our efforts to uphold the rule of law.
Shortly after the ruling in New York on Friday, a second judge in California issued a decision that blocked the policy in that state as well as Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia.
Oakland-based U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton said in a 93-page order that the public charge regulation would “upend“ operations by states and local governments to provide services to immigrants. She added that the plaintiffs sufficiently demonstrated that they will lose federal funding as a result of people halting Medicaid enrollment.
But Hamilton, another Clinton appointee, stopped short of granting a second nationwide injunction. Instead, she temporarily blocked the policy in the plaintiff states.
“Plaintiffs have certainly demonstrated that confusion about the nation’s immigration policies is a cause of disenrollment, even for those who will not be subject to the public charge assessment,” she wrote. “However, plaintiffs have not demonstrated the marginal effect a nationwide injunction would have on curing that confusion for their residents over and above an injunction limited to their own borders.“
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a written statement the California ruling “stops the Trump administration’s heartless attempt to weaponize essential health care, housing, and nutrition programs.”
Following the New York and California rulings Friday, U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson issued another nationwide injunction against the regulation in a lawsuit brought by Washington and a coalition of 13 other states.
Malouf Peterson, based in Spokane, Wash., said the states would be harmed because the Trump regulation would cause residents to abandon health, nutrition and housing programs “out of fear or confusion.“ As a result, states would be left to perform “ongoing triage for residents who have missed opportunities for timely diagnoses, vaccinations, or building a strong foundation in childhood,” she wrote.
The judge, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, said a nationwide injunction would allow residents to move between states if needed. In addition, she said a nationwide block would prevent legal permanent residents from being scrutinized under the new public charge standard when reentering the U.S. from trips abroad.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement: “These injunctions are the latest inexplicable example of the Administration being ordered to comply with the flawed or lawless guidance of a previous administration instead of the actual laws passed by Congress.”
Victoria Colliver contributed to this report.
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