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Federal judge blocks Trump’s immigration wealth test during pandemic

July 31, 2020 David Brand
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A Manhattan federal judge temporarily blocked the Trump administration from denying green cards and visas to noncitizens who receive public benefits until the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, ruling Wednesday in favor of immigrants’ rights groups that sued the federal government to halt the measure.

The “public charge” rule expands the definition of who could be denied entry and permanent residency in the United States based on a person’s likelihood of using public assistance programs like Medicaid, food stamps and Section 8 housing — people who receive benefits are referred to as “public charges” in government jargon.

Manhattan Federal Court Judge George Daniels said the rule forced immigrants and their families to forgo needed services during the nationwide COVID crisis.

The federal government’s “interest in effectuating the Rule fails to measure up to the gravity of this global pandemic that continues to threaten the lives and economic well-being of America’s residents,” Daniels wrote in his decision temporarily blocking the Department of Homeland Security, State Department and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services from applying the rule.

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“No person should hesitate to seek medical care, nor should they endure punishment or penalty if they seek temporary financial aid as a result of the pandemic’s impact,” he continued. “As a direct result of the rule, immigrants are forced to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing public health and personal safety or their immigration status.”

Make the Road New York led local efforts to oppose the “public charge” rule. Photo: Victoria Merlino/Brooklyn Eagle

Immigrants’ rights groups had sued the federal government to stop the public charge rule from taking effect. New York Attorney General Letitia James and 21 other Democratic state attorneys general filed amicus briefs in support of the lawsuit.

James praised the court for ruling on “the side of justice and equality.”

“Immigrants of all financial backgrounds make great contributions to this nation, and despite the president’s continued assaults on these groups, we will never stop fighting to protect them,” James said.

Federal workers screen people seeking to move into the United States to determine whether they are likely to apply for and receive public benefits. They take into account finances, health, education, English language skills and other factors.

Make the Road New York Co-Executive Director Javier H. Valdés said the rule had “caused immense harm to our communities — harm that intensified, as our country is in the midst of a health crisis.”

“[The rule] attacked our loved ones by imposing a racist wealth test on the immigration system, leaving working immigrants to choose between vital services or remaining together with their families,” Valdés said.

USCIS and DHS did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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