Judge Greenlights Baltimore’s Suit Challenging Trump Immigration Rules

Baltimore City Hall. File photo

A U.S. District Court judge in Baltimore rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit challenging new rules for immigration.

Last November, Baltimore’s mayor and city council sued the administration, challenging a policy used by immigration officials outside the U.S. to determine whether would-be immigrants are likely to become a “public charge” through their use of health care and child care programs, among others.

The federal government sought to have the case dismissed but was denied by Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander last week.

The lawsuit, which was filed in collaboration with the nonprofit Democracy Forward, alleges that the public was not given proper notice of a pending change to the Foreign Affairs Manual which would allow consular officers to impose a heavily weighted negative factor in visa applications if applicants or their family members, including U.S. citizens, have received public benefits like free school lunches, emergency medical services, or job training programs.

The policy led to a sharp increase in visa denials, from 3,237 public charge denials in 2017 to more than 13,000 in 2018, Baltimore and Democracy Forward argued in court filings.

The lawsuit also contends that the rule was arbitrary and capricious and motivated by racial animus from President Trump, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The city claims that the changes mean fewer immigrants are seeking social services, which could cause other problems like falling productivity, vaccination rates, and educational achievement, and rising poverty, malnutrition, and communicable diseases.

The Trump administration denied the claims and moved to dismiss the case, including the individual claims made against the president.

The federal government argued that the changes to the rule could not be traceable to the president and that the city lacked standing to sue Trump personally.

Hollander noted that the West Wing circulated a memo about imposing public charge laws just after Trump’s inauguration and concluded that the president could be sued even though the U.S. State Department ultimately implemented the change.

“[If] President Trump harbors animus towards immigrants of color, and if he encouraged the State Department to revise the [Foreign Affairs Manual], then the amendments violate equal protection, even if officials within the State Department did not personally harbor racial animus,” Hollander wrote.

The federal government also argued that four pages of statements from Trump about immigrants were “statements about policy” and didn’t constitute animus.

However, Hollander, in her opinion allowing the case to move forward, said several of the president’s statements “plausibly constitute prejudice.” She pointed to reports that Trump complained about “people from shithole countries” coming to the U.S. in January, and other statements including that immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” and that once immigrants from Nigeria had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts.”

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) issued a statement about the court’s ruling, which was released last Friday.

“Baltimore is a City that welcomes immigrants, as it has done since its founding,” Young said. “By cutting off entirely appropriate, historical pathways for the City to welcome immigrants, and by intimidating our foreign-born population and their families, the Trump Administration is doing lasting harm to the City.”

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Danielle E. Gaines
Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.

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