November 5, 2019

Judge blocks Trump policy that would deny visas for immigrants without health coverage

Daily Briefing

    A federal judge on Saturday temporarily blocked a Trump administration policy under which the federal government would deny immigrants visas if they cannot prove they can afford to cover their medical expenses or that they will be enrolled in health coverage.

    Background

    The policy stems from a proclamation President Trump issued in October. Under the policy, immigrants who wish to obtain a visa to enter the United States would have to prove that they either will be enrolled in health coverage within 30 days of entering the United States or that they have the financial resources to cover any medical expenses they might incur.

    Not all health plans would qualify as acceptable health coverage. Under the proclamation, catastrophic health plans, employer-sponsored health plans, short-term health plans, unsubsidized Affordable Care Act exchange plans, certain visitor health plans, Medicare, and TRICARE would be considered valid for visa approval. Medicaid coverage and subsidized exchange plans would not qualify as an eligible form of health insurance to meet the requirements, according to the proclamation.

    The policy was scheduled to take effect Sunday, but seven U.S. citizens and a nonprofit organization on Wednesday filed a lawsuit seeking to block the requirements. The plaintiffs in the suit argue that the policy would prevent Americans from bringing their foreign-born spouses and parents to be with them in the United States.

    Judge temporarily blocks policy from taking effect

    U.S. District Judge Michael Simon on Saturday issued a temporary restraining order blocking the policy from taking effect for 28 days, while he considers the case. Simon in the order wrote, "Facing a likely risk of being separated from their family members and a delay in obtaining a visa to which family members would otherwise be entitled is irreparable harm."

    According to the Associated Press, it is not clear when Simon will rule on the merits of the case.

    Reaction

    Esther Sung, a senior litigator at the Justice Action Center who argued on plaintiffs' behalf during a hearing in the case on Saturday, said, "We're very grateful that the court recognized the need to block the health care ban immediately." Sung added, "The ban would separate families and cut two-thirds of green-card-based immigration starting [Sunday], were the ban not stopped."

    Bless said, "Countless thousands across the country can breathe a sigh of relief today because the court recognized the urgent and irreparable harm that would have been inflicted" if the policy had taken effect.

    But White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham criticized the temporary restraining order. "Once again, a nationwide injunction is permitting a single judge to thwart the President's policy judgment on a matter where Congress expressly gave the President authority," Grisham said. She continued, "It is wrong and unfair for a single district court judge to thwart the policies that the President determined would best protect the United States health care system—and for the United States taxpayers to suffer the grave consequences of the immense strain inflicted on the health care system from subsidizing uncompensated care for those seeking admission."

    According to the Washington Post, immigration attorneys and health officials have expressed concerns that the policy could slow family-based immigration even though it is not in effect, because the order does not completely address uncertainty among existing and potential immigrants. "People are confused and terrified they will lose the ability to live in the U.S. with their loved ones," Bless said (Associated Press, 11/3; Falconer, Axios, 11/2; Abutaleb et al., Washington Post, 11/3).

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