Federal Judge Bars Trump Health Insurance Order for New Immigrants

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
November 27, 2019 Updated: November 27, 2019

A federal judge in Oregon has blocked a Trump administration rule that requires new immigrants to prove that they will have health insurance or can afford it before obtaining their visa.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon granted a nationwide preliminary injunction that would stop the State Department from enforcing the order. The order, signed in October, would require foreign nationals to show “they will be covered by health insurance within 30 days of entering the country or have the financial resources to pay for medical costs,” before they qualify for an immigrant visa.

The rule, which does not affect refugees, asylum seekers, or those who are on non-immigrant visas, was made to “protect the availability of healthcare benefits for American citizens,” the White House said at the time. The administration noted that “[a]dmitting large numbers of immigrants who cannot pay for their healthcare puts a burden on our taxpayers and healthcare system.”

Simon, who is an appointee of President Barack Obama, expressed concern that the order would block an entire class of immigrants who cannot afford health insurance or afford to pay for reasonably necessary medical costs.

He said the order would hinder these immigrants from entering the United States indefinitely and contravene an action by Congress in 1990 to remove “paupers” from section 1182 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“The proclamation is anticipated to affect approximately 60 percent of all immigrant visa applicants,” Simon wrote in his opinion (pdf). “The president offers no national security or foreign relations justification for this sweeping change in immigration law.”

Simon also rejected the government’s argument that immigrants would not suffer irreparable harm because their family members’ visas will only be “delayed.” He cited examples of plaintiffs who cannot afford the insurance and would suffer “extreme hardship” due to the order.

Esther Sung, an attorney with the Justice Action Center and a litigator in the case, welcomed the decision. She said that it provides “an important check on the Trump administration’s effort to rewrite our nation’s immigration and health care laws in violation of the boundaries set out in the Constitution,” in a statement to media outlets.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that the district court’s decision disregards a portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act that allowed the president broad authority to impose additional restrictions or limitations on the entry of aliens into the United States.

“The relevant portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides: ‘Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate. And in a landmark decision last year, the Supreme Court recognized the President’s broad authority to so impose such restrictions,'” Grisham said.

“That broad authority formed the foundation of this most recent proclamation that was designed to protect the United States from the detrimental effects of uninsured immigrants. The district court’s decision enjoining the proclamation disregards the statute’s text, in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision,” she continued.

“We look forward to defending the President’s lawful action.”

Trump said in his proclamation that when hospitals and other providers are not reimbursed for the care they give to those who are uninsured, the costs associated with such care get passed on to American citizens in the form of higher taxes, higher premiums, and higher fees for medical services.

“Data shows that lawful immigrants are about three times more likely than United States citizens to lack health insurance,” he added. “Immigrants who enter this country should not further saddle our healthcare system, and subsequently, American taxpayers, with higher costs.”

Following the proclamation, seven individuals and a non-profit organization sued the Trump administration to stop the enforcement of the order. In early November, Simon temporarily blocked the rule saying that he believes the rule is against the law.

This nationwide preliminary injunction is the latest in the dispute between the executive and judicial branches. The White House has accused unelected federal judges of issuing nationwide injunctions that block crucial executive action in disputes, preventing application across the nation while the cases proceed through the court. This has allowed judges to function as lawmakers indirectly.

Former Attorney General Jeff Session vowed to fight back against the encroachment of the judicial branch, commenting last year that “too many judges believe it is their right, their duty, to act upon their sympathies and policy preferences.”

“In effect, activist advocates want judges who will do for them what they have been unable to achieve at the ballot box,” he said. “It is fundamentally undemocratic.”

Several of these injunctions are detrimental to Trump’s immigration agenda, which has seen some crucial immigration policies be put on hold.

“On perhaps no issue has these district court injunction has been more brazen and damaging than in the area of immigration,” Trump said earlier this month. “In case after case, judges are prohibiting us from enforcing the plain letter of the law.”

Mimi Nguyen-Ly contributed to this report.

Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.