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Trump administration can enforce green card wealth test in most states, court rules

A federal appellate court on Wednesday limited an order that had blocked the nationwide implementation of a controversial wealth test for green cards and immigrant visas, allowing the Trump administration to continue the policy in every state except New York, Connecticut and Vermont.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit partially set aside last month's ruling from a federal judge in New York, who said the so-called "public charge" test was hindering nationwide efforts to contain the coronavirus by discouraging immigrants from requesting public assistance, including medical treatment, during the pandemic.

U.S. Circuit Judge Peter Hall did not provide a reason in his one-paragraph order, which set aside the lower court injunction in every state but New York, Connecticut and Vermont. All three of those states had sued the Trump administration over the public charge rule.

Wednesday's order is a temporary victory for the Trump administration and its public charge policy, the most sweeping restriction on legal immigration in recent years. The regulation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security gives immigration officers more power to deny green card applications from people found to rely — or be at risk of relying — on government assistance, like housing vouchers and food stamps.

The rule was supposed to be implemented in October 2019 — but orders from federal judges delayed its enforcement until this February, after the Supreme Court intervened and set aside lower court injunctions.

In April, the attorneys general in New York, Connecticut and Vermont asked the Supreme Court to reconsider its decision, saying the public charge regulation was hurting immigrant communities hard-hit by the spreading coronavirus. The high court denied their request but left open the possibility for the states to pursue relief in lower courts.

The states filed declarations by doctors, local officials and advocates who said immigrants across the country fear they could jeopardize their immigration status by seeking medical treatment and government aid during the pandemic. 

Citing these declarations, U.S. Judge George Daniels ruled in late July that the policy should be halted as long as a national emergency over the virus existed, saying the regulation was presenting immigrants with an "impossible choice between jeopardizing health and personal safety or their immigration status."

Dan Hetlage, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the public charge rule, said Thursday the agency was reviewing Wednesday's order to "determine the administrative viability of reimplementing" the policy "where applicable."

Daniels also halted in July the State Department version of the public charge rule, which applies to people abroad applying for immigrant visas. The rules require officers to determine if prospective immigrants are likely to become a "public charge" by analyzing their wealth, age, educational skills, English language proficiency, health and other factors.

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