On September 24, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security published a proposed draft of alterations to be made to immigration rules surrounding public assistance. The suggested rule change would drastically expand the categories of public assistance which would have a negative effect on a later green card or citizenship application. This has been proposed before, but the proposal is now more fleshed out and stands a chance of being adopted. This could pose real problems for immigrants later on.
The initial public charge law came into being in the 1880s, before the Chinese Exclusion Act, and it explicitly barred “idiots, lunatics, convicts” and anyone “likely to become a public charge,” arguing that immigrants must be able to support themselves financially and be self-sufficient. The law was rigidly enforced until after World War II when its enforcement began to dwindle upon the general public becoming more aware of its eugenic roots. Public charge has remained on the books, but only selectively enforced, since then, though it briefly was in the news in the 1990s after efforts at welfare reform.
Not until earlier in 2018 has the law been discussed in the same problematic terms as it was at its inception, with DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen declaiming that all immigrants must be able to support themselves financially. While on paper this is logical, the problems are clear: this would openly discriminate against disabled people, as well as those from developing countries that would simply not be able to meet the threshold for assets that would be required.
As proposed, the rule would significantly expand the types of public assistance that U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) would be able to count against an applicant when they seek to become a lawful permanent resident or citizen - namely, even those to which an immigrant is legally entitled. Those present in the U.S. with documentation are able to utilize programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps), Medicaid, Section 8 housing support, and some others - but if it counts against one’s application for citizenship or lawful permanent residency, many will choose to go without, as they are already doing.
While the law is still in the planning stages, it is important to keep in mind that there are some who would be exempted from the public charge requirements - namely refugees, asylees, and people petitioning for themselves under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Also, other categories of people would be eligible for waivers. Nonetheless, many would be forced to either forego benefits that they would otherwise be legally entitled to, which may precipitate departure. Which may or may not be what the administration has in mind.
This can be a terrifying time for those who need public benefits to survive, and indeed, for immigrants as a whole. If you have questions, consulting an attorney is a good idea. The passionate Chicago immigration lawyers at Mevorah Law Offices LLC will do our best to try and ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed choice. Call us today at 630-932-9100 for a free consultation.
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