Judge Blocks Trump Policy That Favors Wealthy Immigrants

A federal judge in New York issued a nationwide injunction on Friday blocking implementation of a new federal policy that would deny legal residency to immigrants who are likely to depend on public welfare.

Judge George B. Daniels of the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York said those potentially affected by the new regulation could suffer “irreparable harm” if it goes into effect. “The balance of equities and the interests of justice favor issuance of a preliminary injunction,” the judge wrote.

The “public charge” rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on Tuesday, set new standards for determining who might become a burden on the public purse and barred them from obtaining permanent residence in the country.

Judge Daniels’s order, which the Justice Department is likely to appeal, came a few days after President Trump also moved to deny immigrant visas to those who cannot prove that they will either have health insurance or can afford to pay for their own health care.

The president said legal immigrants were three times as likely as American citizens to lack health insurance, making them a burden on hospitals and taxpayers in the United States.

The separate public charge regulation that was the subject of the latest court order had been roundly condemned by immigrant advocacy groups and the medical establishment, which argued that the rule would discourage immigrants from seeking government assistance when they may need help buying food or seeing a doctor.

The regulations published by the Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 14 expand the definition of what it means to be a “public charge,” making it more difficult for immigrants to be approved for a green card if they have received benefits such as Medicaid, housing assistance or food stamps, or are deemed likely to receive them in the future.

For a nation that has long welcomed immigrants from poor countries seeking to improve their lot, the new rule could drastically change the composition of newcomers admitted to the United States. The rule would favor those who are educated and wealthy, more likely to hail from Europe than from the developing world.

The new standards would directly affect about 1.2 million applicants annually, including about 500,000 who are already in the country. But that figure does not include millions of family members and others who might also be affected. Immigration experts said the rules would disproportionately affect applicants from Africa and Latin America.

Under the policy, which is still subject to full legal review by the courts, agency officials are to consider a “totality of circumstances” in assessing green card applicants based on a list of “positive” and “negative” factors. Negative factors include being unemployed, not completing high school and lacking proficiency in English. Assets, personal debts and credit score are also taken into account.

Heavily weighted positive factors include having a household income that is 250 percent above the federal poverty line, currently $53,325 for a family of three, or having private health insurance that is not subsidized by Affordable Care Act tax credits.

Most people seeking to obtain legal permanent residency or to immigrate to the United States are immediate relatives of naturalized Americans or have a family-based sponsor. Thus, critics have said, the new criteria force immigrants to choose between the well-being of some family members in the United States and their desire to reunite with those waiting to join them from overseas. A family’s use of benefits could hamper the chances that a spouse in a foreign country would ever be allowed to immigrate to the United States, even if the family members who use the benefits are United States citizens.

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Miriam Jordan