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Federal court favors Trump administration rule to limit migrant benefits

By Clyde Hughes
New citizens of the United States take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony in New York City. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
New citizens of the United States take the Oath of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony in New York City. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Judges in the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have lifted several injunctions that blocked a rule change by the Trump administration that's designed to limit government benefits to immigrants.

In a 2-1 vote, the three-judge panel lifted stays placed by federal judges in California and Washington state on the administration's "public charge" policy, which would make it harder for migrants to win green cards if they need public assistance, like food stamps or Medicaid. Those courts issued the injunction in October just before the rule was set to take effect.

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The rule was introduced by Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in August and drew backlash from Democrats and immigrants rights activists.

"The [public charge] phrase is subject to multiple interpretations. It, in fact, has been interpreted differently, and the executive branch has been afforded the discretion to interpret it," Appeals Judge Jay Bybee wrote in the ruling Thursday.

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"Whether the change in policy results from changing circumstances or a change in administrations, the wisdom of the policy is not a question we can review."

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The court disagreed with a 1999 change to the rule, by the administration of former President Bill Clinton, which added restrictions to the rule.

The White House applauded the ruling Friday.

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"The Ninth Circuit has rightly recognized the administration's authority to adopt an interpretation of the 'public charge' restriction more faithful to and consistent with the scope of the statute passed by Congress.

"[The court] held that the Trump administration should be able to enforce a regulation implementing a statute passed by Congress that has declared for over a century that any alien who 'is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.'"

The rule remains blocked nationwide by courts in Maryland and New York, however, and is unaffected by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision -- as its jurisdiction is limited to nine Western states. The Justice Department has been appealing the injunctions.

The White House said the courts that have issued injunctions overstepped their authority.

Cuccinelli had said the public charge rule affects about 400,000 immigrants each year and cannot supersede any action by Congress.

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