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UPDATE 2-U.S. judge blocks Trump rule limiting green cards for poor immigrants

Reuters | New York | Updated: 12-10-2019 01:56 IST | Created: 12-10-2019 01:55 IST
UPDATE 2-U.S. judge blocks Trump rule limiting green cards for poor immigrants
Image Credit: ANI

A U.S. federal judge in New York on Friday temporarily blocked a Trump administration rule that would deny permanent residency to certain aspiring immigrants deemed likely to require government assistance, calling it "repugnant to the American Dream." The rule, finalized in August, vastly expanded who could be considered a possible "public charge" from someone who would be primarily dependent on the government to someone who might at some point need temporary government help such as food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule, pushed by Trump's leading aide on immigration, Stephen Miller, was due to go into effect on Oct. 15. It will now be on hold while legal challenges proceed. The rule, if ultimately allowed to take effect, could be the most drastic Trump administration policy targeting the legal immigration system, experts have said. The government has argued the rule is needed to ensure immigrants will be self-sufficient.

Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York issued an order blocking the rule nationwide. He wrote that the government had failed to provide "any reasonable explanation" for why the definition of "public charge" needed to be changed. "The rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification," the judge wrote. "It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility."

The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The rule laid out factors immigration officers should weigh, including household income and English proficiency. Immigrant advocates said this would disproportionately affect people from Latin American, African and Asian countries. The judge called the inclusion of English proficiency as a predictor of self-sufficiency "simply offensive."

U.S. immigration law has long required officials to exclude from permanent residency a person likely to become a "public charge." But for two decades, guidelines had narrowly defined a "public charge" as someone primarily dependent on direct cash assistance or who requires long-term institutionalization at government expense, in a nursing home for example. The new rule changed this definition to include anyone who would receive a much wider range of public benefits. It also set a minimum household income threshold of 125 percent of the federal poverty level: $32,187 for a family of four.

A 2018 study by the Migration Policy Institute found 69 percent of immigrants who had received legal permanent residence within the past five years had at least one negative factor against them under the administration's test, while just 39 percent had one of the heavily weighted positive factors: an income at or above 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Most visa holders and unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for public benefits, but immigrant advocates, medical professionals and state officials have argued the rule could deter them from seeking benefits even for children who are U.S. citizens, even though benefits for family members are not considered under the rule.

On Thursday, the State Department revealed its own rule on ineligibility for visa applicants, to bring its standards in line with the DHS rule. It was unclear whether the State Department's rule will take effect. In January 2018, the State Department updated its foreign affairs manual, giving diplomats wider discretion in deciding visa denials on public-charge grounds. In the 2018 fiscal year nearly 13,500 immigrant visa applications were refused on those grounds, quadruple the number in the previous fiscal year and the highest total since 2004.

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