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Federal Judges In 3 States Block Trump's 'Public Charge' Rule For Green Cards

Three federal judges on Friday temporarily blocked a Trump administration rule that would make it harder for low-income immigrants to get a green card. President Trump is seen here leaving the White House last week.
Jim Watson
AFP via Getty Images
Three federal judges on Friday temporarily blocked a Trump administration rule that would make it harder for low-income immigrants to get a green card. President Trump is seen here leaving the White House last week.

Updated at 9:27 p.m. ET

Federal judges in three states — New York, California and Washington — haveissued temporary injunctions against the Trump administration's "public charge" rule, preventing it from taking effect on Oct. 15.

The controversial rule would make it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards if it looks as though they might need public assistance. Titled "Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds," the rule sparked several legal challenges.

Under the rule, U.S. immigration officials who decide whether an immigrant should be granted a green card would weigh whether the applicant will be self-sufficient. Among the factors the officials would use is whether the applicant is already using public benefits like food stamps, housing subsidies and cash assistance.

Judge George B. Daniels, of the Southern District of New York, ruled on Friday afternoon that the plaintiffs — five organizations that work to aid immigrants, as well as the governments of New York state, New York City, Connecticut and Vermont — are likely to succeed in their claims against the Trump administration.

"The Rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification," Daniels wrote as he granted the request. "It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility. Immigrants have always come to this country seeking a better life for themselves and their posterity. With or without help, most succeed."

The rule, which the administration announced this summer, is being challenged in several federal courts by immigrant rights groups and more than a dozen state attorneys general. Opponents argue that it discriminates against low-income immigrants and immigrants of color by imposing tough new standards on those seeking legal permanent residency in the United States. They note that the public charge policy has been in place for over a century but the new requirements would favor wealthier immigrants.

By the end of the day, two other federal judges issued rulings against the Trump administration.

In California, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled that Trump administration officials "acted arbitrarily and capriciously during the legally-required process to implement the changes they propose" in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act.

She also said the Department of Homeland Security failed to adequately consider the costs to local and state governments when immigrants leave public health benefit programs. For example, Hamilton said that the government, in legal briefs, minimized the potential public-health consequences of the proposed rule.

"It made no attempt, whatsoever, to investigate the type or magnitude of harm that would flow from the reality which it admittedly recognized would result—fewer people would be vaccinated," Hamilton wrote.

The ruling follows a suit brought by California, Maine, Oregon, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.

In Washington, U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson issued a nationwide injunctionruling that DHS had "not cited any statute, legislative history, or other resource that supports the interpretation that Congress has delegated to DHS the authority to expand the definition of who is inadmissible as a public charge or to define what benefits undermine, rather than to promote, the stated goal of achieving self-sufficiency."

The ruling comes in a suit brought by the state of Washington and 13 other states: Virginia, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Rhode Island.

The White House issued a statement late Friday expressing its disappointment with the rulings, especially the nationwide injunction.

"The rulings today prevent our Nation's immigration officers from ensuring that immigrants seeking entry to the United States will be self-sufficient and instead allow non-citizens to continue taking advantage of our generous but limited public resources reserved for vulnerable Americans," the statement read. "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. "

Under the new rule, immigration officials would consider a number of factors when deciding whether someone should be denied a green card because they might become a public charge, or burden, on society.

For example, if people earn less than 125 percent of the poverty level, that would be held against them. If they can't speak English or have large debts, that would also count against them. If they use food stamps, housing assistance or Medicaid, that too would be held against them.

The Trump administration argues that the rule is only clarifying existing law, saying it believes immigrants who want to stay in the U.S. should be able to support themselves and not rely on government aid. The administration also argues that safety-net programs are needed to aid U.S. citizens and there is not enough money to provide additional benefits.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, summarized the administration's position on NPR's Morning Edition by paraphrasing the Emma Lazarus poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty.

Cuccinelli, who is named in the lawsuit, said the inscription should read instead: "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

In a statement Friday, Cuccinelli responded to the temporary injunction:

"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. The public charge regulation defines this long-standing law to ensure those seeking to come or stay in the United States can support themselves financially and will not rely on public benefits. Through faithful execution of the law, we will ensure immigrants are able to successfully support themselves as they seek opportunity here. An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law."

Advocates for immigrants cheered the Judge Daniels' move. "Today's decision marks a major defeat for the Trump administration's unlawful tactic to impose a racist wealth test on our immigration system," said Javier Valdés, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, which was among the plaintiffs, in a statement. "People should be able to access vital and life-saving benefits without having to worry if they could remain with their families. We will continue to stand up to this administration's onslaught on immigrants and people of color—we will fight and protect our communities from inhumane policy changes every step of the way."

Confusion around the new policy has spurred many immigrants to drop benefits unnecessarily, even before the rule was set to take effect. Opponents say the administration's proposed rule could have a devastating impact on public health and impose huge costs on local and state governments.

A study by the Urban Institute foundthat 1 in 7 adults in immigrant families avoided participating in a public benefit program in 2018 owing to fear of risking future green card status.

The rule is just one in a series of efforts by the White House to limit both legal and illegal immigration to the U.S.

Last week, President Trump signed a proclamation barring the entry of legal immigrants who cannot prove they will have health care coverage or the means to pay for it within 30 days of their arrival in the U.S. Under that proclamation, starting Nov. 3, only immigrants who can show they can pay for "reasonably foreseeable medical costs" or are already covered by approved health insurance would be allowed to enter the U.S.

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Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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