Trump Hammered at 2nd Circuit for Shake-Up of Green Card Rules

A security officer, center, meets with people on July 13, 2020, outside the federal building in Baltimore to give them a form to return for immigration check-ins at a later date. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

MANHATTAN (CN) — The Trump administration’s rule preventing immigrants who receive any form of public assistance from obtaining green cards is “unmoored” from the intent of Congress, the Second Circuit ruled Tuesday. 

“Had Congress thought that any benefits use was incompatible with self-sufficiency, it could have said so, either by making non-citizens ineligible for all such benefits or by making those who did receive them inadmissible. But it did not,” U.S. Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch wrote in a 109-page opinion. “We are thus left with an agency justification that is unmoored from the nuanced views of Congress.” 

Applauding the decision, the Center for Constitutional Rights noted: “The Second Circuit took a long look at the history of the meaning of public charge.”  

“It found that DHS’s rule violated Congress’s intent and did so in a way that was so thinly justified as to be arbitrary,” their attorney Ghita Schwarz said in a statement. “The court’s thoughtful discussion of the scope of the injunction leaves in place the ability of district courts to issue nationwide relief when their rulings are not in conflict with those of other courts.” 

Though a federal judge had given nationwide effect to his injunction of the so-called “public charge” rule, the three-judge panel limited the scope of the relief to three states: New York, Connecticut and Vermont.  

“The issuance of nationwide injunctions has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years, a topic that has already touched these cases on their brief foray to the Supreme Court,” wrote Lynch, an Obama appointee.

Long a boogeyman of conservative justices, nationwide injunctions have come under increasing political fire with U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr denouncing the string of federal courts blocking Trump administration policies as illegal.  

Calling to abolish the practice in a Wall Street Journal editorial last year, Barr wrote that such injunctions “create an unfair, one-way system in which the democratically accountable government must fend off case after case to put its policy into effect, while those challenging the policy need only find a single sympathetic judge.” 

The Second Circuit’s three-judge panel encouraged district courts to be more sparing with nationwide application of injunctions in particularly contentious cases. 

“When confronted with such a volatile litigation landscape, we encourage district courts to consider crafting preliminary injunctions that anticipate the possibility of conflict with other courts and provide for such a contingency,” the opinion states. 

The Second Circuit’s instructions crossed political lines among the three-judge panel: inspiring agreement among Leval, appointed by Obama; U.S. Circuit Judge Pierre Leval, a Bill Clinton appointee; and U.S. Circuit Judge Peter Hall, a George W. Bush appointee. 

A representative for the Department of Justice declined Tuesday to comment. 

The unanimous three-judge panel skewered the Trump administration’s reasoning that immigrants who receive food, housing or public health benefit would never likely become productive members of society in the United States. 

“Large numbers of SNAP recipients, far from being incapable of productive employment, work for some of America’s largest corporations,” their opinion states, citing reporting on the struggles of Amazon, Walmart and McDonald’s employees in the footnotes. 

The judges found that the rationale did not hold up to scrutiny as applied to public housing. 

“It makes little sense to treat the mere receipt of housing benefits as proof of inability to survive by one’s own efforts when the program is intended for, among others, people who can and do earn moderate incomes,” the ruling states. 

The Second Circuit noted that Medicaid could be an immigrant’s only option for health care in the U.S. for-profit system, where access largely depends on whether employers offer coverage. 

“Considering that access to insurance is often determined by factors beyond an individual’s control, we are dubious of DHS’s unsupported claim that using public health insurance shows a lack of self-sufficiency,” the ruling states. “To the contrary, studies show that more than 60% of Medicaid beneficiaries who are not children, older adults, or people with disabilities are employed.” 

Today’s ruling is the latest twist in a see-saw litigation hopping across multiple jurisdictions. There have been similar court battles in California and Illinois

In New York, U.S. District Judge George Daniels blocked the public charge rule on Oct. 11 as “repugnant to the American dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility.” 

Though Supreme Court lifted the judge’s first injunction in January, the high court allowed a separate pandemic-related challenge against the policy. Many immigrants reported not seeking treatment for the coronavirus for fear of retaliation by the Trump administration.  

Judge Daniels granted a separate injunction last week for the length of the national emergency.

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