US judge bars Trump's health insurance rule for immigrants

Mexican residents with visas walking across the Puerta Mexico International bridge to enter the US on June 28, 2019. PHOTO: AP

PORTLAND (AP) - A US judge in Oregon on Tuesday (Nov 26) granted a preliminary injunction blocking a Trump administration proclamation that would require immigrants to show proof of health insurance to get a visa.

US District Court Judge Michael Simon said in a written opinion that the proclamation could not take effect while a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality makes its way through the courts.

The proclamation issued by President Donald Trump in October would only apply to people seeking immigrant visas from abroad - not those in the US already.

Seven US citizens and a non-profit organisation sued to prevent the rule from taking effect, saying it would block nearly two-thirds of all prospective legal immigrants.

The lawsuit also said the rule would greatly reduce or eliminate the number of immigrants who enter the US with family-sponsored visas.

"This decision is an important check on the Trump administration's effort to rewrite our nation's immigration and healthcare laws in violation of the boundaries set out in the Constitution," said Esther Sung, an attorney with the Justice Action Centre.

In a statement on Tuesday night, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Simon's decision disregards federal law in violation of a Supreme Court decision last year recognising the president's broad authority to impose such restrictions. "We look forward to defending the President's lawful action," she said.

Simon previously issued an emergency temporary restraining order on Nov 3 in response to the lawsuit and heard oral arguments before issuing Tuesday's opinion.

Under the government's visa rule, the required insurance can be bought individually or provided by an employer, and it can be short-term coverage or catastrophic.

Medicaid doesn't count, and an immigrant can't get a visa if using the Affordable Care Act's subsidies when buying insurance. The federal government pays for those subsidies.

The Migration Policy Institute, a non-partisan immigration think-tank, says 57 per cent of US immigrants had private health insurance in 2017, compared with 69 per cent of US-born residents, and 30 per cent of immigrants had public health insurance coverage, compared with 36 per cent of native-born residents.

The uninsured rate for immigrants dropped from 32 per cent to 20 per cent from 2013 to 2017, since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, according to the institute.

There are about 1.1 million people who obtain green cards each year.

Earlier this year, the administration made sweeping changes to regulations that would deny green cards to immigrants who use some forms of public assistance. The courts have blocked that measure.

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