CHN: Anti-Immigrant Public Charge Rule Changes Proposed

Update: The proposed Public Charge rule was officially published on October 10. In a statement, CHN called the rule, “the latest in a series of unconscionable attacks on immigrants and immigrant communities.” Organization are urging advocates to submit comments in opposition to the rule during the 60-day comment period, which runs through Monday, Dec. 10.

On September 22, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed rule on its website that would make it harder for immigrants to come to or stay in the U.S. if they use any number of public benefits they are legally entitled to, such as SNAP/food stamps or housing assistance. The proposed rule would make changes to what’s known as the “public charge” provisions of immigration law; noncitizens can be considered a “public charge” if they are deemed likely to become primarily dependent on the government to meet their basic needs. The current, long-standing public charge determination, made when a person is applying for admission to the U.S. or for Lawful Permanent Resident (green card) status, is limited to the receipt of public cash assistance, like SSI or TANF, or long-term care in an institution.

The proposed changes would greatly alter this policy and expand the forms of public assistance considered. If implemented, the public charge determination process would consider whether an individual has received or is likely to receive in the future one or more of a much broader array of non-cash benefits as well, including SNAP, housing vouchers or public housing, Medicaid, and Medicare Part D low-income subsidies. Under the proposed rule, immigrants who do not receive benefits but have incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty line could also be denied entry. The proposed rule would not apply to refugees, asylees, or certain other humanitarian immigrants. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, one in three U.S.-born citizens would struggle to meet the standards this rule would set for immigrants.

Advocates believe that this is a back door way for the Trump administration to restrict family immigration and deter families from securing critical services. If implemented, advocates fear these changes would force immigrant families to make impossible choices between meeting basic needs and keeping their families together in the U.S. A statement from CHN noted, “If immigrants are too afraid to seek benefits they qualify for, the result will be a sicker, hungrier, poorer nation.” Some service agencies have already reported panic in the immigrant community and have seen cases of families pulling out of programs like school meals because of fear that it may negatively impact them in the future, despite the fact that the proposal would not count services used before the rule would be finalized.

However, advocates also stress that the proposed public charge rule is not finalized yet. Organizations are urging advocates to submit public comments in opposition to the rule beginning as soon as it is officially published in the Federal Register, which is expected to happen on October 10. Public comments will be accepted for 60 days after it is published (through December 10 assuming it is published October 10). For more information, visit the Protecting Immigrant Families website, and watch this webinar hosted by CHN. Resources are also available from the Center on Law and Social Policy, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the Food Research & Action Center, the National Housing Law Project, and MomsRising.

News of the proposed changes to the public charge rule came just weeks after the New York Times reported that the number of migrant children detained at federal facilities had skyrocketed to the highest levels ever, reaching 12,800 in September. This number is up fivefold since May 2017, when there were 2,400 migrant children being held in federal shelters. Later in September, the Times reported that the number of detained migrant children grew to over 13,000, and that hundreds of children were being moved in the middle of the night to a tent city in Texas with limited access to legal services and no schooling.

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