The Wall Street Journal: Federal Judges Block Rule to Disqualify Legal Immigrants Over Public Assistance 

One judge calls the Trump administration move restricting green cards ‘repugnant to the American dream’

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer handles folders of immigrant applications for “green cards,” or permanent residency, at the Dallas field office in Irving, Texas. PHOTO: JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES

Federal judges in three states on Friday blocked a Trump administration rule that would disqualify legal immigrants from permanent residency if they use certain public-assistance programs and impede prospective applicants deemed likely to need them.

The rulings came as President Trump’s immigration agenda suffered a separate legal blow in Texas, where an El Paso judge ruled the administration violated federal law by moving to construct barriers on the southern U.S. border with funds not approved by Congress.

While the Supreme Court has allowed the administration to proceed with some border-wall construction, the Texas decision against additional border barriers raises different legal issues.

In the cases involving public assistance, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels in the Southern District of New York and U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson in the Eastern District of Washington state issued preliminary injunctions that block the policy nationwide, ruling it was likely unlawful.

In California, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland also said the policy likely crossed legal boundaries, but issued a more targeted injunction that applied in only in the handful of states involved in the litigation.

Judge Daniels said the rule departed from longstanding U.S. policy without legal justification, and was arbitrary and capricious. The Trump administration, he said, didn’t explain why it was changing the policy, or why its new tough approach was necessary or reasonable.

The rule “is repugnant to the American dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility,” Judge Daniels wrote in a 24-page opinion. The judges in the New York, California and Texas cases were appointed by former President Bill Clinton, while the judge in Washington state, who ruled on lawsuits brought by 14 states, was appointed by former President Barack Obama.

The decisions came days before the policy was set to take effect on Tuesday.

“Once again, the courts have thwarted the Trump administration’s attempts to enact rules that violate both our laws and our values,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought one of the suits against the administration along with New York City, Connecticut and Vermont.

Ken Cuccinelli, director of U.S. Citizenship and immigration Services, the agency responsible for carrying out the new rule, said in a statement that immigration law has long required prospective immigrants to be self-sufficient.

“The public-charge regulation defines this longstanding law to ensure those seeking to come or stay in the United States can support themselves financially and will not rely on public benefits,” he said. “An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law.”

Backers of the rule said they want to ensure that immigrants are self-sufficient and prevent them from becoming a drain on U.S. taxpayers. The rule has been a particular priority for top White House aide Stephen Miller.

The rule’s critics argue it has already had a chilling effect on immigrants’ use of a range of social benefits, with some opting out of benefits that aren’t covered by the rule because they don’t fully understand it.

The use of several benefits, including school lunch programs, homeless shelters, food pantries and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, wouldn’t disqualify applicants. The rule wouldn’t affect immigrants who came to the U.S. as refugees or who win asylum.

The rule would have a more dramatic impact on new immigrants, primarily spouses and family members of American citizens and permanent residents, looking to enter the U.S. on visas. The rule allows the government agencies issuing such visas to project whether they believe applicants might become a “public charge” if admitted to the U.S., essentially imposing an income test.

An analysis by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, showed that, in the past five years, a majority of immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia wouldn’t be able to pass such a test.

Immigrants outside the U.S. could still be subject to the public-charge rule next week. On Thursday, the State Department issued a nearly identical rule that is also set to take effect Tuesday, barring a separate court challenge. That rule, which bypassed a public-comment period and would apply to visa applications submitted beginning Oct. 15, will affect only prospective immigrants applying from outside the U.S.

The State Department made a similar change to its visa guidelines through policy guidance at the beginning of 2018, a move that is being challenged in another lawsuit. As a result, visa denials on the grounds that the applicant could become a “public charge” have increased significantly during the Trump administration, from a net total of 164 in the 2016 fiscal year to 5,518 in fiscal 2018, government statistics show.

In the border wall case, U.S. District Judge David Briones said Mr. Trump acted unlawfully in February when he issued a proclamation declaring a national emergency at the southern border and ordering that barriers be built with funds from elsewhere in the federal government, primarily the Defense Department.

A political standoff over the wall led to a 35-day partial government shutdown when Democratic lawmakers opposed giving Mr. Trump the $5.7 billion he sought for the construction. The two sides reached a budget deal in February that included about $1.38 billion for 55 miles of border barriers, far short of the president’s request.

Judge Briones’s ruling said Congress in that deal made clear that the administration couldn’t spend other money to build border structures beyond what it had approved.

The judge didn’t immediately issue an injunction blocking the administration’s plans, giving litigants 15 days to offer more input. The case was filed by El Paso County and the Border Network for Human Rights.

The Supreme Court in July allowed the administration to shift about $2.5 billion in military funds for border wall construction. That case came from California, and the Trump administration sought emergency high court intervention after losing in lower courts. The Texas case also is likely to see a White House appeal in the near future.