Broad Injunction on New Immigration Policy Faces Scrutiny

MANHATTAN (CN) — New green card rules that punish immigrants who make use of certain social services appeared to curry little favor Monday from a bipartisan panel of Second Circuit judges.

“In my experience, people take what’s available to them,” said U.S. Judge Pierre Leval, likening public-assistance opportunities to the deductions he takes himself as a taxpayer.

The Clinton appointee was one of three judges considering an appeal this afternoon over the Trump administration’s so-called public charge rule.

A line with hundreds of people snakes around the block outside a U.S. immigration office with numerous courtrooms in San Francisco on Jan. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

Expected to dramatically increase barriers to U.S. permanent residency, the rule treats an immigrant’s reliance on certain public assistance as an indicator of that individual’s potential to become a drain on the state.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels issued a nationwide injunction against the policy, but the rule has been reinstated as appeals from across the country get underway, with the Supreme Court expected to have the final word.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives wants the rule thrown out, estimating that the nearly half of U.S. citizens would qualify as public charges under the Trump administration’s definition.

On Monday, as Second Circuit arguments stretched for nearly two hours, a lawyer for the House argued that lawmakers never intended for immigrants to hurdle a wealth requirement, even with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.

“Of course, in 1996, Congress was concerned with noncitizen self-sufficiency, but Congress does not pursue its policy goals at all costs,” said William Havemann, assistant general counsel at the House.

Havemann noted that Congress made it possible in 2002 for those with green cards to collect food stamps.

U.S. Circuit Judge Peter Hall, a George W. Bush appointee, pressed the government lawyer defending the rule about how it affects health care for women of childbearing age.

Department of Justice attorney Gerard Sinzdak replied that the rule excludes such women, and he also said that it would not interfere with immigrants enrolling in Medicaid after they get a green card.

The Second Circuit’s ruling in the case is expected to help determine the boundaries of future Supreme Court arguments.

“Would you agree that it’s open to us to address what the appropriateness of a nationwide injunction is now?” U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch asked attorney Jonathan Hurwitz, who represents the immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York.

Hurwitz agreed that the Second Circuit has the power to limit the nationwide relief ordered by Daniels to the areas of its jurisdiction, in other words New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

Federal judges in Maryland and Illinois blocked the rule late last year as well, but the competing injunctions could mean varying financial requirements for green card applicants who live in different parts of the country.

The Supreme Court temporarily lifted nationwide injunctions against the rule in January. While a Seventh Circuit appeal of the Illinois decision remains pending, the Fourth overturned the Maryland ruling and the Ninth Circuit ruled similarly against an injunction in California.

In a friend-of-the-court brief, the House’s general counsel characterized the public-charge rule policy as an “overhaul” of the U.S. immigration system.

“Thus, under the new rule, immigration officials would exclude a noncitizen deemed likely to resemble any person in the less affluent half of the U.S.-born population,” its brief states.

The American Public Health Association filed an amicus brief as well, joined by the American Academy of Nursing and other leading scholars, deans, and experts.

As the United States braces for the coronavirus epidemic, the health experts warned that the policy creates a “chilling effect on immigrant participation in essential health programs, negatively impact their overall health outcomes, result in significant disenrollment from health care programs, and create serious public health risks for individuals and communities across the nation.”

The Second Circuit reserved decision on an appeal, though any ruling upholding the injunction would not take immediate effect until the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Like Judge Leval, Judge Lynch is a Clinton appointee, as is the lower court’s Judge Daniels.

“It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility,” Daniels wrote in October. “Immigrants have always come to this country seeking a better live for themselves and their posterity. With or without help, most succeed.”

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