Federal judge keeps alive Baltimore’s bid to prove Trump’s ‘racial animus’ shapes immigration policy

A federal judge ruled last week that Baltimore’s lawsuit against the Trump administration’s immigration policies can move forward, keeping alive the city’s attempt to prove the president’s "racial animus” played a role in how those rules were crafted.

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander’s 82-page opinion touched on several of President Donald Trump’s most controversial remarks on immigration, including his claims that immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS,” and that if Nigerians are admitted into America they would “never go back to their huts.”


The City’s Complaint alleges facts sufficient to nudge from conceivable to plausible the allegation that the President harbors racial animus and that he played a role in the creation,” of State Department guidelines concerning immigrant visas, Hollander wrote.

The City of Baltimore sued the Trump administration last year over changes the State Department made to the way it weighs the use of government benefits by potential immigrants and their families when deciding to grant visas. At issue is an amended section that deals with determining whether someone is likely to become a “public charge."


City officials say the action deters people from claiming benefits they’re entitled to — such as food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid — out of fear it will make it more difficult for their relatives to secure visas.

The city alleges that President Donald Trump and members of his administration harbor “animus towards immigrants, particularly those from Latin American, Asian, and African countries, and those who accept public benefits.”

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The Trump administration asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing among other things that the city lacks standing to pursue a claim against the president specifically. The suit names Trump, the U.S. Department of State and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo as defendants.

Judge Hollander wrote she was not persuaded by the administration’s argument that Baltimore can’t sue Trump because the State Department, not him, revised the policies. Hollander cited previous court rulings that found because any president can hire and fire political employees at will, their decisions are not always free from presidential meddling

“In other words, the buck stops with the President,” she wrote in the ruling filed last week.

While Hollander’s ruling is an early victory for the city, there is no certainty of success long-term. The judge noted the significant hurdles to suing a sitting president, particularly over matters of policy.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

“We are gratified that the Court acted with enviable courage in calling out explicitly the race-based foundations of our claims,” city solicitor Andre M. Davis said in a statement. “The court clearly recognized at this stage of the case the validity of our claims that the Trump Administration’s actions are invidiously unlawful and that we are entitled to a full opportunity to conduct discovery in order to reveal, with compelling proof, the real harm being done to the City.”


The city lawsuit is supported by a coalition of 19 states and 17 cities and counties.