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A Judge Blocked Trump’s Plan To Deny Green Cards To Immigrants Who Use Public Benefits

The preliminary injunction is the latest in a long line of court decisions stopping the Trump administration from enforcing sweeping immigration changes.

Last updated on October 11, 2019, at 3:10 p.m. ET

Posted on October 11, 2019, at 2:54 p.m. ET

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A federal judge in New York on Friday blocked the Trump administration’s efforts to deny permanent residency to immigrants who use or are likely to use public benefits, such as food stamps, housing vouchers, and Medicaid.

“Moreover, there is no public interest in allowing Defendants to proceed with an unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious rule that exceeds their authority,” Judge George B. Daniels said Friday.

Daniels became the latest judge to block a major Trump administration immigration policy. Courts across the country have previously stopped the administration’s plans to wind down protections for certain immigrants who came to the country as children, ban asylum for those who crossed without authorization, and detain families for longer than three weeks.

“The consequences that Plaintiffs must address, and America must endure, will be personal and public disruption, much of which cannot be done. Overnight, the Rule will expose individuals to economic insecurity, health instability, denial of their path to citizenship, and potential deportation — none of which is the result of any conduct by those such injuries will affect,” Daniels said.

A federal judge in California also ruled that the policy is likely unlawful and blocked it from being enforced in San Francisco County, California, Oregon, Washington, DC, Maine, or Pennsylvania. Friday’s preliminary injunction will stop the policy from going into effect as planned on Tuesday.

“The history of our nation is inextricably tied to our immigrant communities, and because of today’s decision, so too will be our future. Once again, the courts have thwarted the Trump Administration’s attempts to enact rules that violate both our laws and our values, sending a loud and clear message that they cannot rewrite our story to meet their agenda,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who helped file the lawsuit after it was proposed in August.

The Immigration and Nationality Act has long allowed the government to reject granting permanent residency to immigrants who were determined to be a financial burden on society or a "public charge" — meaning they’re dependent on the government for financial support.

The new rule would have altered how the government decided if someone is a public charge, allowing officials to deny green cards to those who have used or will likely use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP food stamps], Section 8 housing vouchers and assistance, public housing, or most forms of Medicaid.

"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," US Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said Friday. "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.”

More than 4 million noncitizens were in families receiving SNAP benefits between 2014 and 2016, according to an analysis done by the Migration Policy Institute. More than 39 million people were enrolled in the program in June 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture’s most recent statistics. It did not break out the numbers by immigration status.

Last year, researchers said the proposed version of the rule would have a serious impact on immigrants, regardless of whether they were affected by the policy.

“Numerous studies, by MPI and others, have found the rule would result in disenrollment from public benefits programs by many immigrants, including those not directly affected by the rule, as well as U.S.-born dependents,” read a report released by the Migration Policy Institute. “Already, there are anecdotal reports by service providers of people disenrolling from public benefit programs amid fear or confusion about the rule.”

Shortly after the policy was introduced, Cuccinelli made controversial remarks about the poem on the Statue of Liberty.

"They certainly are: 'Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,'" he said on NPR. "That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge was passed — very interesting timing."

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