Trump just started the new year with a dangerous new push

The new year for White House anti-immigration efforts has run into an early obstacle—a federal appeals court has temporarily blocked the newly announced Trump administration policy easing the way to deny legal status to immigrants who use any publicly funded benefit, like health or food stamps.

In a brief order last week, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan denied the Trump administration’s bid to allow the program to proceed. Previously there had been a federal injunction against its implementation.

But it all means is that the government must hold off from enforcement until a full hearing can be held beginning next month. But while the New York circuit ordered the temporary halt to enforcing Donald Trump’s rule changes, appeals courts in other states have ruled the opposite way, making for conflict that probably ensures a Supreme Court review.

While the New York circuit ordered the temporary halt to enforcing Donald Trump’s rule changes, appeals courts in other states have ruled the opposite way, making for conflict that probably ensures a Supreme Court review.

The Department of Homeland Security has called anyone using cash assistance or government-funded institutional care as a “public charge.”  The rule change sought by the administration said that immigrants who are labeled a "public charge," could be denied green cards, visas and other forms of legal immigration status.

But that’s just one of several issues the White House is juggling as the anti-immigrant campaign moves into the new year.

'Protecting' Taxpayers

As NBC News outlined, the new rule expands the definition to include additional benefits such as food stamps, non-emergency Medicaid, certain prescription drug subsidies and housing vouchers. It says that any immigrant household, not necessarily individual, who uses or is deemed likely to use one public benefit for 12 months during a 36-month period as a target. Receipt of two public benefits in one month counts as two months, the rule noted.

The Trump administration argues that expanding the meaning of "public charge" helps "protect American taxpayers" and ensures "that noncitizens in this country are self-sufficient and not a strain on public resources.  Critics say it would disproportionately impact lower income immigrants and immigrants of color.

A statement by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security, that the "public charge inadmissibility rule enforces long-standing immigration law that Congress reaffirmed in 1996."

‘Dangerous and Discriminatory’ Change

The opponents’ legal team for Make the Road New York, The Legal Aid Society and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a competing statement that “the court rejected the Trump administration's claims that it cannot wait to implement its dangerous and discriminatory public charge policy change."

The Justice Department declined to comment.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels, of the Southern District of New York, set the injunction on enforcement in October. At the time, he wrote, "It is a rule that will punish individuals for their receipt of benefits provided by our government, and discourages them from lawfully receiving available assistance intended to aid them in becoming contributing members of our society."

Southern Border Numbers Down

Meanwhile, the number of migrants taken into custody along the U.S.-Mexico border has started to level off after several months of decline, according to border enforcement statistics, according to the Customs and Border Protection service. The number of people apprehended or deemed “inadmissible” along the southern border fell to 40,620 last month, down 72% from May, when the Trump administration declared it was at the height of a border crisis.

Of course, much of this has resulted from forcing migrants who pass through a third country, like Guatemala or Mexico, to be returned to that third country, where they are waiting for months for a change to make appeals for entry to the United States.

The Associated Press reports that the White House is considering expanding its much-challenged travel ban to additional countries this year, though it has yet to name the new, presumably Muslim-majority nations that may be added, all based on sources in the White House. The move would be timed to coincide with the third anniversary of Trump’s January 2017 executive order.

Green Card Backlog

At the same time, the new year is seeing an estimated 800,000 immigrants who are working legally in the United States are waiting for a green card, an unprecedented backlog in employment-based immigration. There is a relatively quiet policy debate underway that has been overshadowed by the border wall fight and issues related to enforcement on the border.

It turns out that most of those waiting for employment-based green cards that would allow them to stay in the United States permanently are Indian nationals. And the backlog among this group is so acute that an Indian national who applies for a green card now can expect to wait up to 50 years to get one. The wait is largely the result of an annual quota unchanged since 1990 and per-country limits enacted decades before the tech boom made India the top source of employment-based green card seekers.

There are competing bills in Congress to deal with this, but lack of consensus has halted any comprehensive approach to immigration. The backlog has become a serious issue for business, of course, who fear that prized employees may simply go elsewhere.

The new year has brought along various new rules in the administration’s continuing campaign to stop both legal and illegal immigration.

There are, for example, new cost hikes for key immigration processes, The Miami Herald reports. Citizenship and Immigration Services plans fee hikes of 83% for naturalization, from $640 to $1,170, for example. They also want to charge asylum seekers $50 for an application, thus becoming one of four countries around the world to charge for humanitarian protection.

In another new rule, the administration plans to modify regulations that would increase the waiting period to apply for employment authorization, denying the permits to asylum applicants who entered the United States illegally, terminating the permit immediately if the asylum application is denied, and removing the 30-day deadline for rulings on permit applications.

The anti-immigration program is hale and hearty.