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Carl Leubsdorf

While Washington was transfixed by the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation drama, a federal judge administered the latest judicial rebuke to President Donald Trump's recurring efforts to end the historic U.S. role as a "golden door" for the poor and the afflicted "yearning to breathe free."

It's the kind of case which, when it inevitably reaches the Supreme Court, could test Justice Kavanaugh's vow to be "an impartial, independent judge," rather than a rubber stamp for the Republican president who nominated him.

In this latest case, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen ruled that a plan to deport nearly 330,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan -- admitted under the 1990 Temporary Protected Status humanitarian program to protect victims of war or natural disasters -- violated the Constitution's equal protection clause because it was based on what he called Trump's "animus against non-white, non-European immigrants."

Judge Chen's stinging characterization could easily be applied to other aspects of the president's continuing efforts to curb both legal and illegal immigration: the separation of minor children from their parents while refusing to accept Central Americans fleeing violence; the ban on Muslims from specified Middle Eastern countries; resistance to a compromise legalizing the so-called Dreamers brought here illegally as small children; the recently disclosed plan to deny permanent green card status to immigrants who received Medicaid or food stamps; and the broader effort to curb legal immigration.

Overall immigration, The Washington Post reported last July, "is on pace to drop 12 percent" in Trump's first two years in office, with the biggest effect an 81 percent drop in the Muslim-majority countries like Yemen, Syria, Iran, Libya and Somalia covered by the controversial ban ultimately approved by the Supreme Court.

But the Post study cited declines in the Central American and Asian countries that have sent the most immigrants to the United States in recent years, though legal immigration from European counties showed a slight increase.

In every case, the reductions are falling overwhelmingly on people of color -- Hispanics, Muslims, Asians and blacks. The announced purposes vary: enhanced domestic security, reduced crime; easing an alleged burden on governmental services. But as Judge Chen noted, there is evidence the underlying motivation -- as well as the evident result -- is racial.

The San Francisco judge, an appointee of President Barack Obama, cited several Trump statements, including his much-publicized reference to Asian and Central American countries as "s---hole countries" in raising the question "whether a discriminatory purpose was a motivating factor" in Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielson's decision to end the TPS designation for nearly 330,000 Salvadorans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Sudanese. Many "have lived, worked, and raised families in the United States (many for more than a decade)," including many with U.S.–born children, the judge noted.

Here are those primarily affected by prior or pending moves against immigrants:

* Separation of minor children from illegals seeking entry. Most are Central Americans fleeing from violence and poverty in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Prior U.S. policy was to provide sanctuaries for many, pending legal process of their claims. This administration's program of separating children from their parents, intended to discourage illegal entry from Mexico, has turned into a human and legal disaster for hundreds of children. It has slowed crossings, but experts say it is too early to know if that is temporary or permanent.

* Dreamers. A strong majority of Americans favors permanent legal status for the 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought here as children by their parents and protected under Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Federal judges have blocked administration efforts to end it, but Trump's insistence on including new limits on legal immigration and funds for his anti-immigration wall have prevented congressional action. Most Dreamers come from Mexico, but some are from Asia and South and Central America.

* Reduction of refugee resettlement programs. Despite the millions of refugees in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, the administration initially halted the 1980 Refugee Resettlement program. When blocked by federal courts, it reduced the number being admitted, from 85,000 in 2016 and Obama's 2017 goal of 110,000 to 45,000 this year.

* Denial of green cards. Last month, the administration announced a plan to bar citizenship or permanent residency (green cards) for immigrants receiving governmental benefits like Medicaid, food stamps or public housing. It also instituted a policy denying visa or green card applications with errors without allowing appeals or corrections. Most of the 12.6 million current green card holders come from Mexico, followed by China, India, the Philippines and the Dominican Republic.

Trump has made his views clear, starting with his denunciation of Mexican immigrants in his June 2015 announcement and his use of racist terms referring to foreign immigrants. He said the United States should bring in more people from countries like Norway, which is 89 percent white.

But ultimately, the Supreme Court will determine if his comments produced legal policies.

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Carl P. Leubsdorf writes for the Dallas Morning News.

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