The new public charge regulation penalizes people who have received a range of public benefits, but its focus on barring permanently barring poor immigrants goes far beyond that. The rule targets a grandmother planning to live with her daughter and son-in-law and help care for their children. The rule targets a bright, ambitious immigrant without a college education, who is still ready to do any kind of work to make a better life for their children. In short, the rule targets family reunification and immigrants who have helped to build this country and whose energy and contributions we still need.
News accounts describe the rule as denying visas to people who have received food stamps, Medicaid, and three federal housing programs. That’s the fear-inspiring part of the provision, clearly intended to scare legal immigrants and citizens away from these and any other public benefits to which they are entitled. Fear is the point, and it is working. The proposed rule was announced almost two years ago, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants pulled themselves and their children out of public programs “for fear that noncitizen parents and other family members could be denied the more secure status of legal permanent resident.”
And yet the actual number of people who could be affected by the public benefit portion of the regulation is small compared to the number affected by the rest of the rule. The Catholic Legal Immigration Network describes these provisions:
“At the present time, and for the last 20 years, applicants have been able to overcome public charge by submitting an affidavit of support from the petitioner or a joint sponsor that shows evidence of income of at least 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. This new rule turns the focus on the applicant and requires the USCIS to balance a list of factors—classifying them as positive or negative, or heavily weighted positive or negative—before reaching a determination. Negative factors could include the applicant’s age (under 18 or over 61), income below 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, job skills, work history, high school education, English proficiency, credit rating, health, health insurance coverage, financial liabilities, assets and other resources.”
Court challenges to this regulation continue, although a January 27 Supreme Court ruling allows it to take effect while the long legal process proceeds. USCIS announced it will begin implementing the rule on February 24. As that date approaches, anyone who is considering disenrolling themselves or their children from a public benefit program should seek the advice o an experienced immigration attorney before doing so. And the rest of us should call our Congressional representatives to tell them we want legislation to repeal the rule put in place by administrative action of the Trump anti-immigrant administration.