A federal judge on Friday blocked a sweeping regulation that would've made it easier for the Trump administration to reject green card and visa applications filed by low-income immigrants whom the government determines are or might become a burden on USA taxpayers.
The rule, if ultimately allowed to take effect, could be the most drastic Trump administration policy targeting the legal immigration system, experts have said. James and other attorneys general sued in August to block the rule change from taking effect.
Nearly simultaneously, a federal judge in California also blocked the policy from taking effect, but that order was more geographically limited to states involved in the case: California, Oregon, Maine, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia.
But Judge Daniels' ruling said that the government had failed to provide a reasonable explanation for changing the definition of public charge.
"This rule would have had devastating impacts on New Yorkers and our nation, and today's decision is a critical step in our efforts to uphold the rule of law", NY state Attorney General Letitia James wrote in a post on Twitter.
The Department of Homeland Security published a rule change proposal in the Federal Register in August that would have expanded a 1999 rule to outline new categories of immigrants who would be barred from entry or denied visa renewals due to reliance on US government benefits like Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. "It is repugnant to the American dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upwards mobility".
For decades, the US has asked most green card and visa petitioners to prove they won't be a "public charge" - or an economic burden - on the country. An Associated Press analysis of census data shows that non-citizen immigrants with low incomes have a lower rate of using Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income than their native-born counterparts.
The term "public charge" is the government's term for noncitizens who have received long-term financial or other assistance.
The rule prompted concern among advocates who argued it would lead many immigrants - including those with children who are citizens - to forgo participating in a government safety net program because of fear that it could risk their green card status in the future. Trump was elected with a clear mandate to curtail immigration, especially immigration disadvantageous to the USA taxpayer.
Factors like the immigrant's age, employment status and English-language ability would also be looked at to determine whether they could potentially become public burdens at any point in the future.
The White House budget office is also now reviewing a proposed Justice Department regulation that would allow the U.S.to deport immigrants deemed a "public charge" under the new guidelines of the USCIS rule that was blocked on Friday.
Critics have said the rule will disproportionately affect low-income immigrants of color and punish them for being poor.
Administration officials and immigration hardliners have strongly defended the rule, arguing that it will foster "self-sufficiency" among immigrant communities.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, summarized the administration's position on NPR's Morning Edition by paraphrasing the Emma Lazarus poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty.