Tag Archives: Courts

Proposed Public Charge Rule Change, Tied Up in Court, Has Huge Chilling Effect on Immigrants

Federal courts have temporarily blocked the public charge rule change from going into effect, but its chilling effects continue to reverberate. The number of immigrants who, fearing the consequences of the rule change, have taken or plan to take steps to drop out of public services for which they are eligible far exceeds the actual number who would be at risk if the rule ever goes into effect, research data show.

A May study by the Urban Institute found of adults in immigrant families almost 14%  reported that they or another adult family member had dropped benefits or skipped applying for them,  even on behalf of a child, rather than take on the perceived risk of exposure to new rules. Among low-income families, that number rose to more than 20%, the study found. Programs they shied away from include: SNAP (food stamps) CHIP (children’s health insurance), and Section 8 and other types of housing assistance.

Nationwide, the families of 22.7 million people’s families include immigrants who could potentially fall victim to the chilling effect created by fear of public charge rules changes.

The proposed rule change was due to take effect Oct. 15 this year until four different federal courts all ruled to block it and issued injunctions against implementing it.

But long before, as word of the proposed rule change began leaking out ahead of its October 2018 announcement, millions of people feared being caught in its clutches and avoided using government programs intended to help them and their families lead healthier, more successful lives.

Nationwide, said Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute, “So few noncitizens are eligible for the safety net programs covered by the rule that those who would be affected is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands,” not millions, as cited incorrectly by both officials and the news media. 

A Michigan government study found that “of 86,298 noncitizen legal immigrants receiving public assistance from the state health department, only 611 may find a tougher path to legal permanent residency if they continue receiving public benefits.” That’s less than 1%.

For those already in the United States, the category of people who most need to be cautious about public charge rules aren’t those receiving benefits, but those who plan to travel beyond U.S. borders.

“If I had one message for every immigrant in America I would say, ‘Look, if you’re a green card holder, don’t leave for more than 180 days,’” said former Obama administration official Doug Rand, a co-founder of Boundless.com. 

The public charge rules, even if toughened as proposed, simply don’t apply to many people already in the country. Not to asylum seekers or refugees, citizens or those applying for citizenship, nor DACA, or those with green cards. Use of benefits by family members and past use of benefits also is irrelevant, even under the proposed tougher rules.

“The list of programs now considered in the public charge test is more limited than it seems at first blush,” Sara Feldman of the National Immigration Law Center said. “The impact will mostly be restricted to use of food stamps, housing subsidies and cash assistance. While Medicaid is included, there are so many exceptions in the rule that few people enrolled in the program would be impacted.”

“And use of public benefits is only one factor considered when determining who gets a green card,” Feldman added. “Immigration officials also take income, health condition, English proficiency, and other factors into account.”

The people who have most fallen victim to public charge rules are those applying to come to the United States. Since 2016, the State Department has cited public charge issues more aggressively. Visa denials on public charge grounds jumped from 1,000 in 2016 to 12,000 in 2018 at U.S. consulates around the world.

But half of those denials already have been overturned, and more may be overturned as the time-consuming appeal process continues, the Migration Policy Institute’s Jeanne Batalova pointed out at a telebriefing co-sponsored by Ethnic Media Services, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the National Immigration Law Center.

“The brutal irony is that people are still disenrolling from public benefits when they don’t have to,” Rand said.

Mark Greenberg, senior fellow at the Migration Policy institute, told Ethnic Media Services in a phone interview after the telebriefing that “It’s very unclear what problem the administration thought it was going to solve, because Congress had already agreed 20 years ago to public charge-based restrictions,”  

 “The number of people who would be denied adjustment of status based on benefit use would be low because they aren’t eligible (for those benefits),” he said, far fewer than the number feeling the effect of the proposed rule change while it wends its way through the courts.

Sizing Up Immigrant Rights—Best Hope In Ballot Box

Less than two weeks after the Trump administration’s arbitrary deadline for Congress to take action on DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) came and went with no solution, four veterans of the immigrant rights movement agreed that the outlook is bleak and the challenges are significant. The greatest hope lies in the voting booth –a shift of power out of Republican hands after the November elections – and the fact that those most impacted are taking action to protect themselves and inform others in their communities.

“It’s highly unlikely that Congress is going to pass any relief to benefit young people who make a huge contribution to the country they call home,” said Frank Sharry, Director of America’s Voice in Washington DC.   “Congress and the White House are no friends.”

Sharry was joined by attorney Joshua Rosenthal of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) deputy director Sally Kinoshita, and California Labor Federation field coordinator for southern California Hector Saldivar. The four spoke on a national telebriefing for ethnic media on March 13, hosted by ILRC’s Ready California.

Calling it a “war on immigrants,” Sharry said the  administration aims to “slash immigration by 50%, turbocharge deportations and construct a border wall as wasteful as it is insulting,” He counted five failed bipartisan efforts to provide the “bill of love” the president claimed to want while decreeing the end of DACA.

Democratic leadership, for its part, “despite a lot of effort, a lot of back and forth,” simply “couldn’t cut a deal with a leadership that doesn’t want to make a deal.”

“It’s a cynical, cruel strategy that the White House has pursued,” Sharry said. “Our best hope is that litigation will allow Dreamers to keep their status until hopefully we get a new Congress (in November’s elections).”  If power shifts out of Republican hands, there will be “a much better chance – although not a slam dunk – that legislation will be able to move forward.”

In the meantime, people are forced into “a horrible decision, to stay without papers or leave. We’re hoping to protect as many people as possible, buy them as much time as possible.”

NILC lawyer Rosenthal was also cautious in his assessment of efforts to challenge the Trump campaign through the courts.   “Courts are only able to go so far. They’re not going to be the final answer. We can’t ignore the role of Congress and the states in providing protection for immigrants.”

He cited as good news rulings in California and New York this year that found the Trump administration’s Sept. 5 announcement it would cut off DACA applications a month later to be “arbitrary and capricious.”   When the government tried to fast-track an appeal of those rulings to the Supreme Court, the justices refused to consider taking the case until they had gone through the remaining lower-level appeals courts, meaning that those eligible to renew their DACA status can continue to do so. If they do eventually review the case, their decision wouldn’t arrive until the spring of 2019.

Even then, he added, the injunction “is a limited, temporary form of relief.” It leaves out an important set of people, those unable to receive DACA status prior to the Trump administration’s decision to end the program.

Rosenthal recommended visiting informedimmigrant.com and its Spanish version, immigranteinformado.com, for lists of trustworthy service providers sorted by location for help in applying for DACA, and other information.

With almost a third of  the country’s undocumented immigrants, California has mounted the most comprehensive effort to resist the Trump administration’s “war on immigrants,” declaring itself a sanctuary state.

Sally Kinoshita of ILRC noted that there is no legal definition of the term “sanctuary.” But she cited several state measures that provide some resistance to federal efforts against immigrant communities.   These include SB 54, AB103 and AB540 which respectively restrict the ability of local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement); require the state attorney general to inspect detention facilities operated under contract with the federal government; and require judicial warrants in advance of detentions.

“These laws help to make clear that California is much safer for immigrants,” Kinoshita said.  Despite that, ICE recently launched a four-day campaign in Northern California in which 40% of the more than 200 arrested had no criminal records.  The raids aim to stoke public fear by portraying immigrants as a threat.

Kinoshita noted that the state has budgeted $45 million for immigration education, outreach and legal services.

The state’s Department of Social Services’ website lists 100 nonprofits that receive state funding and have either free or low cost services.  She recommended those in California refer to ready-california.org, with its lists of trusted service providers, trainings and events.

For those all-important screenings, Kinoshita recommended the website immi.org, which enables people to do them anonymously and online.

Hector Saldivar, who coordinates field activities for the California Labor Federation, spoke of increased fear and anxiety throughout immigrant communities. Himself a DACA recipient, he described his own family’s agonizing situation when his mother was recently denied re-entry into the country.

Like Kinoshita, Saldivar praised AB540 for its role in curtailing ICE’s ability to enter work places at will without a judicial warrant. On the ground, he said, forming a network of rapid response units has “provided solidarity and support” for workers facing ICE raids and “silent raids” – audits of a workplace’s I-9 forms that verify workers’ identity and employment authorization.

“This is the most crucial time to go out and show our support,” he said, “particularly for those whose status is secure.  We’re not going to allow them to be picked up or detained and then forgotten.”

Kinoshita agreed. “We can no longer ask those who are most vulnerable to take the most risk.  People who are eligible to naturalize need to do it now,” she said, even if only to vote.

Voting, she said, falls “on the less risky side” of actions people can take and “is so critical.”  “We need Congress to step up. We’re relying heavily on the judiciary and can’t take it for granted.”

Calling the current political climate “one of the darkest chapters in American history,” Frank Sharry said his biggest worry going forward is that “Republicans will maintain control of Congress.”

He’s hopeful, though, that immigration activists are going to prevail, not only in the courts and on the streets, but at the ballot box.

“We’re on the right side of history.”