3 Federal Judges Block Rule Requiring Self-Sufficiency by Immigrants

October 13, 2019 Updated: October 14, 2019

Three federal judges appointed by Democratic presidents acting separately temporarily enjoined the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule that’s aimed at making sure future immigrants to the United States can support themselves without becoming a burden on taxpayers.

The Trump administration is expected to appeal the court orders.

“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,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement Oct. 11.

“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.”

The rule, part of President Donald Trump’s promised overhaul of the nation’s immigration policies, would give the government some leeway to deny green cards, which bestow permanent resident status on individuals, if, according to the government’s methodology, the individuals are deemed likely to become reliant on welfare programs.

The regulation had been scheduled to take effect on Oct. 15. It would have prospective effect, meaning it wouldn’t affect those who already have green cards or have become U.S. citizens. Asylees, as well, would be exempt from the rule.

The public-charge principle, that is, the idea that immigrants should have to demonstrate they can get by without becoming wards of the government, has been part of the American experience for centuries.

U.S. District Judges George B. Daniels of New York and Rosanna Malouf Peterson of Washington state both issued preliminary nationwide injunctions preventing the Trump administration from enforcing the regulation before the litigation has wrapped up. Daniels was appointed by then-President Bill Clinton; Peterson, by then-President Barack Obama.

Daniels found that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on their claim that the administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act, because the administration “fail[ed] to provide any reasonable explanation for changing the definition of ‘public charge.’”

Daniels also chastised the administration for adding English-language proficiency as a factor in the public charge analysis, rejecting the argument that there is a “correlation between a lack of English language skills and public benefit usage, lower incomes, and lower rates of employment.”

The suggestion “that an individual is likely to become a public charge simply by virtue of her limited English proficiency is baseless,” he wrote. “It is simply offensive to contend that English proficiency is a valid predictor of self-sufficiency.”

In fact, plenty of studies contradict Daniels’s claim.

As the U.S. Census Bureau has reported, “[t]he degree to which a person can communicate in English influences employment status, and once employed, his or her ability to find full-time, year-round employment.”

But New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat who brought one of the lawsuits, cheered the court’s ruling for thwarting, “the Trump administration’s attempts to enact rules that violate both our laws and our values.”

The third judge, U.S. District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton of California, a Clinton appointee, issued the most oddly worded ruling of the three.

Hamilton took the unusual step of reciting the Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus,” that appears at the foot of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, language she acknowledged is not legally binding.

Nonetheless, the judge wrote that the sonnet has been “incorporated into the national consciousness as a representation of the country’s promise to would-be immigrants.” That poem contains the familiar lines: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

Hamilton’s preliminary injunction applies “in San Francisco City or County, Santa Clara County, California, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Maine, [and] Pennsylvania.”

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