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Judge blocks Trump administration's "public charge" wealth test for green cards

Trump and Biden's immigration policies
Comparing Trump and Biden's immigration policies 09:09

A federal judge in Illinois on Monday blocked the centerpiece of the Trump administration's efforts to limit legal immigration, prohibiting officials from enforcing a wealth test on green card petitions on the eve of a hotly contested presidential election.

The ruling by Judge Gary Feinerman of the U.S. District Court in Chicago blocks the so-called "public charge" rule issued by the Department of Homeland Security in 2019 on a nationwide level. The regulation gives U.S. immigration officials more power to reject petitions for legal permanent residency from immigrants who they determine rely — or could rely — on public benefits like food stamps, housing vouchers or Medicaid.

Previously, Clinton-era guidance instructed U.S. immigration officials to only deem immigrants "public charges" if they were receiving government cash benefits or long-term institutionalized care.

Before the new rules were set to take effect in October 2019, they were blocked by several federal judges, including one who called it "repugnant to the American Dream of prosperity and opportunity through hard work and upward mobility." After months of litigation and an intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Trump administration first implemented the regulation this February.

However, in July, a federal judge in New York again halted the policy, citing evidence that it was deterring immigrant communities hard-hit by COVID-19 from accessing critical government aid and medical services. Then, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals suspended that ruling and officials reimposed the 2019 public charge test in late September.

In his order Monday, Judge Feinerman said he issued a summary judgement against the rule because he found it violated federal administrative law by dramatically expanding Congress' definition of "public charge," a term first codified in law in the late 19th century, when the U.S. began to restrict immigration at the federal level. He cited text from an earlier ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Even assuming that the term 'public charge' is ambiguous and thus might encompass more than institutionalization or primary, long-term dependence on cash benefits, it does violence to the English language and the statutory context to say that it covers a person who receives only de minimis benefits for a de minimis period of time," the order read.

In a statement to CBS News, Dan Hetlage, a spokesperson for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), said the agency's officers on Monday stopped applying the 2019 public charge rules to pending and future applications.

"USCIS will fully comply with the decision and issue additional forthcoming guidance while the agency reviews the decision," Hetlage said.

Mr. Trump's general election opponent, Joe Biden, has vowed to rescind the public charge rule if elected. Former Homeland Security officials have said that could been an arduous task since it was implemented through the regulatory process. However, experts believe a Biden administration could effectively end the policy by agreeing to a court settlement in the litigation surrounding it.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department, which is likely to appeal Monday's ruling, did not provide any comment.

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