Victories abound for human needs advocates, CHN allies


October 14, 2019

Late on Friday, Voices for Human Needs reported the good news: in two different cases, advocates defeated the Trump Administration in U.S. District Court. The first decision involved the Administration’s proposed Public Charge rule, which would deny green cards or visas to immigrants if they have used certain government aid programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, or housing assistance. The second decision dealt with the Administration’s emergency declaration to spend government funds on border wall construction that Congress had refused to authorize – a federal judge ruled the Administration was out of bounds.

As it turns out, those two rulings were just a part of a dizzying amount of jurisprudence that has taken place lately, including several cases that involve CHN member groups and allies. Here’s a rundown of what you may have missed.

On Friday, we wrote about the decision by Judge George B. Daniels of the Southern District of New York, who issued an injunction preventing, at least for now, the Trump Administration from implementing the Public Charge rule, which had been scheduled to take effect on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Judge Daniels called the proposed policy arbitrary and capricious, contrary to the long-standing definition of public charge, and contrary to congressional intent. “It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility,” the Judge wrote.

On the very same day that Judge Daniels issued his opinion, two other federal judges in different jurisdictions also weighed in – with the similar result that the Trump Administration’s proposed public charge rule was blocked.

In Spokane, Washington, Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson, writing for the Eastern District of Washington, also used the words “arbitrary and capricious” in blocking the Administration’s efforts. She wrote that the proposal was based in an “unmooring from its Congressionally delegated authority.”

She also said states would see “a wide variety of predictable harms” to the health care system and the health of residents. “The harms to children, including U.S. citizen children, from reduced access to medical care, food assistance, and housing support…will compound over time,” she wrote.

And in the Northern District of California, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton published a firm and eloquent ruling. She called out Trump official Ken Cuccinelli for his attempt to tweak Emma Lazarus’ iconic poem on the Statue of Liberty.

Cuccinelli, who now is the Administration’s Acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, 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.”

But Hamilton wrote, “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.”

Also on Friday: judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit expressed skepticism at a hearing over the legality of the Trump Administration’s efforts to allow states to enforce work requirements. Right now, the case under review only involves Kentucky and Arkansas, but other states have asked for, and been granted, permission by the Administration to implement work requirements, and the outcome of the ongoing litigation could have profound effects nationwide.

Kentucky was the first state to have work requirements approved, but has been blocked twice from implementing the new requirements by a U.S. District Court. Arkansas also received permission and saw more than 17,000 residents lose Medicaid coverage as a result, before the same U.S. District Court intervened. It is that court’s ruling that is under current review by the three-judge appellate panel.

During Friday’s argument, lawyers for the Trump Administration said that states such as Kentucky and Arkansas may end their Medicaid expansion programs altogether if they are not allowed to impose work requirements. But opponents countered that such an argument was nothing more than blackmail – and they disputed the contention that Medicaid expansion would be ended.

Finally, in a case that does not directly involve the Trump Administration but is a victory for the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), a CHN member, a federal appellate court ruled that a lawsuit alleging discriminatory utility policies may proceed.

NILC and other plaintiffs had sued the city of LaGrange, Georgia, alleging a violation of the Fair Housing Act. LaGrange is the sole provider of electricity, gas and water utility services to its residents. The city requires that utility customers comply with two policies in order to initiate and maintain those basic utility services, according to NILC. First, both applicants and current customers must pay any debts they owe to the city, including unrelated municipal court fees and fines, to maintain their utilities. If they do not, they cannot obtain new service and their existing service may be turned off, with little or no advance notice. Second, the city requires an applicant seeking to open a new utility account to present a valid state or federal photo ID, which many Latinx residents in LaGrange are unable to obtain.

In 2017, a U.S. District Court had dismissed the lawsuit, but last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacated that decision and said the lawsuit may proceed.

“This is a tremendous victory for the Black and Latinx communities in LaGrange who have suffered because of the city’s discriminatory utility policies,” said Mayra Joachin, NILC Staff Attorney. “Everyone, regardless of their nationality or socioeconomic status, should be able to access gas, water, and electricity. Policies like these are regressive and often hurt immigrant and low-income communities of color the most. Today, the judges reminded us that policies affecting access to essential utilities are protected from discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, and we’re encouraged to see such a clear decision.”  The Trump Administration would like to make it much more difficult to bring housing discrimination claims through a new proposed rule. The public comment period ends on October 18.  Here is a link to an easy way to post a comment, which we encourage you to do.

You can read the court’s 13-page ruling here.

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