Three federal judges took direct aim at President Donald Trump’s immigration policies on Friday with three rulings blocking efforts to make it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance to obtain legal status.
One judge went as far as to call out key Trump ally Ken Cuccinelli for his attempt to tweak Emma Lazarus’ iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty.
Under the proposed rule, many green card and visa applicants could be turned down if they have low incomes or limited education because they’d be deemed more likely to need government assistance in the future, including most forms of Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
Friday’s rulings from judges in New York and Washington state against the so-called “Public Charge” rule will apply nationwide, while a third judge in California halted the rule from taking effect in select locations.
In the rulings, judges were clearly unhappy with the White House’s direction on immigration policy.
Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton in California included Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal in her ruling.
It was a response to acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Cuccinelli, who tweaked the famous poem – whose words, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” have long been associated with immigration to the US and the nation’s history as a haven – as part of his defense of the regulation in August.
Cuccinelli had said: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Hamilton added an admonishment Friday that, “whether one would prefer to see America’s borders opened wide and welcoming, or closed because the nation is full, laws – not poetry – govern who may enter.”
There have been at least nine lawsuits brought against the rule, which was announced in August.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who led one of the lawsuits, has said the rule specifically targets immigrants of color.
“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,” James said on Twitter, responding to the ruling delivered in New York by US District Judge George B. Daniels.
“Thanks to today’s decision, children of lawfully present immigrants will not go hungry or lose their homes as a result of the Trump administration’s heartless action,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who was part of another suit.”
The third ruling came from Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson in the Eastern District of Washington.
“There are serious questions going to the merits regarding whether DHS has acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in formulating the Public Charge Rule,” Peterson wrote.
The release of the rule came at least a year after White House adviser and immigration hardliner Stephen Miller pushed to expedite the policy.
Speaking at the White House, Miller told reporters Friday that “injunctions prevent us from complying with the laws that Congress enacted.”
The rule prompted concern among advocates who argued it would lead many immigrants – including those with children who are citizens – to forgo participating in government safety net programs because of fear that it could risk their green card status in the future.
They’ve pointed to evidence this is already happening including a rise in the nation’s rate of people without health insurance for 2018. The uninsured rate for Latinos and for children, in particular, increased last year.
A study published by the Urban Institute earlier this year found that about 1 in 7 adults in immigrant families reported that either the person or a family member did not participate in a non-cash safety net program last year because of fear of risking his or her green card status in the future.
Among low-income immigrant families, the figure was more than 1 in 5, according to the study, which was based on a December 2018 survey of nearly 2,000 non-elderly adults who are foreign-born or live with at least one foreign-born family member.
Advocates have also said the policy would penalize even hardworking immigrants who need only a small bit of temporary assistance from the government.
Cuccinelli defended the regulation Friday, saying on Twitter, “The Public charge regulation defines this law to ensure those seeking to come or stay in the US can successfully support themselves financially and will not rely on public benefits as they seek opportunity here.”
This story has been updated.