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On Jan 27 the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, lifted an injunction on the Trump administration’s Public Charge Rule, which allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement a policy that denies green cards and permanent resident visas to low-income immigrants and certain categories of legal immigrants, on grounds of inadmissibility.
DHS announced that the rule will take effect nationwide on February 24, 2020.
Critics like Congresswoman Judy Chu say that entering America now comes with a price tag – the rule favors white and wealthy immigrants, and racially discriminates against poorer immigrant families.
The National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians (NCAPIP) denounced the Supreme Court decision as an “anti-American, anti-immigrant, inhumane policy (that) is not only unethical, but short sighted and a detriment to the vitality and health of our communities.”
In effect, the policy discourages lawful residents that the government deems likely to rely on public benefits, from using vital human services like Medicaid, food stamps and other government benefits, in case that jeopardizes their path towards permanent residency, and by extension, citizenship.
A telebriefing on how the Supreme Court’s decision on the Public Charge rule impacts immigrants, was hosted by the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign in partnership with Ethnic Media Services on Friday, January 31. A panel of experts explained the next steps planned by advocacy organizations and congressional allies, and what at-risk immigrants should do.
The panel featured Congresswoman Judy Chu, Mayra Alvares, President of The Children’s Partnership, Alvaro Huerta of the National Immigration Law Center and Madison Allen, senior policy attorney at CLASP and Co-Chair of the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign.
Who is Affected
“The harm is evident” said Madison Allen, describing how vulnerable communities are responding to miscommunication and anti-immigrant rhetoric about Public Charge regulations. Families confused about how Public Charge impacts them are disenrolling from housing, nutrition and medical benefits programs that are essential to their health and wellbeing.
USCIS lists age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills as key factors that will be used to determine who meets the definition for public charge . “No single factor, other than the lack of an affidavit of support, if required, will determine whether an individual is a public charge.”
The law mainly affects immigrants applying for permanent resident status through family member petitions. There is a separate public charge test for people seeking visas from outside the country.
Harmful Impact of Public Charge
The inadmissibility test with its expanded criteria on age, credit score and disability, will dramatically impact and reshape the immigrant system Allen points out, especially for people of color.
Unfortunately, the policy extends far beyond its intended recipients, says Mayra Alvarez of the Children’s Partnership (LA). Kaiser Family Foundation health centers report increasing numbers of immigrants disenrolling from medical coverage and 90 percent of providers in the survey reported increased anxiety among children.
Social services and health centers across the country are documenting an increase in calls about whether it’s safe to stay enrolled in health, nutrition and housing programs, and, legal aid attorneys are fielding calls from sexual assault and domestic violence survivors who are fearful of staying enrolled in their benefits program even as they are trying to rebuild their lives.
The ruling has created ‘a climate of fear’ that is negatively impacting the wellbeing of families who are worried at having to choose between food, medical care, and being together. People are withdrawing from benefits programs supported by tax dollars, even if they are exempt from the Public Charge rule, fearful that their receipt of public benefits will endanger their immigration status.
Most immigrants are not affected, says Alvares. People who are exempt include pregnant women, children under 21, people with disabilities and mothers within 60 days after giving birth.
Other programs not subject to Public Charge include:
– Medicaid and health insurance and health services other than support for long-term institutional care.
– WIC, CHIP, SHELTERS, HEADSTART, HUD public housing, foodstamps, Section 8 housing benefits and other non-cash benefits and special-purpose cash benefits that are not intended for income maintenance.
Immigrants applying for citizenship need not worry unless they are planning to leave the country for longer than six months.
How Congress is Responding
Democrat Rep. Judy Chu of California said the Trump administration was ‘on a mission to spread fear and uncertainty among immigrants in the United States.’ The Public Charge was one of ‘a steady stream of anti-immigrant policies’ issued by the White House. Its discriminatory impact has pushed even legal immigrants who have qualified and paid for services to disenroll from these programs, putting families and children at risk for poor health outcomes and living in poverty. Congresswoman Chu has introduced a bill (HR 3222) to prevent any federal dollars from being used to implement the rule, and as Co-Chair of the Congressional Tri-Caucus, also announced that Tri-Caucus leaders have submitted briefs that support litigation opposing the public charge rule which blatantly discriminates against immigrants of color.”
Litigation against Public Charge continues.
Fortunately, says Alvaro Huerta (NILC), the State of Illinois achieved an injunction which is still in effect, that blocks DHS from implementing the new public charge rule there. Lawsuits challenging the rule continue to be filed across the nation in California, New York, Maryland and other districts courts, to determine whether the Trump administration violated the law when it finalized the Public Charge regulation. Arguments focus on whether the administration failed to consider evidence provided by thousands of commenters on the harm that a racially motivated ruling would cause as it went into effect.
How to Demystify Public Charge impacts and Fight Back
The key takeaways, says Madison Allen, is to understand who is not affected, which immigrants are most at risk, what programs are exempt and what benefits used by family members are subject to public charge consideration.
Families need to work with community partners and get advice from immigration attorneys to understand how public charge impacts them, cautions Mayra Alvarez. “It is essential that families know their rights” and find low cost options to get legal assistance.
Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents