Immigrant Families forced to make Impossible Choices

by Melissa Bowe
NJFON Program & Advocacy Manager

The administration will begin implementing its new “public charge” rule on
February 24, 2020. What will this mean to our immigrant neighbors?

On Monday, January 27, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a nationwide injunction allowing the Trump administration to implement its revision to the definition of who is considered to be a “public charge,” and therefore ineligible for permanent legal status.

As a reminder, “public charge” is a ground of inadmissibility, which can bar one’s ability to receive a green card or visa, or to be admitted into the United States. In deciding whether to grant an applicant a green card or a visa, an immigration officer must decide whether that person is likely to become dependent on certain government benefits in the future, which would make them a “public charge.”

Until now, the use of most public benefits was not a barrier to legal status in the United States, which has been the policy for at least two decades. The new rule punishes recipients of vital health, housing, and nutrition programs, including federally funded Medicaid, SNAP benefits and Section 8 housing benefits.

As we stated in the past, this new rule forces millions of immigrant families to choose between protecting their immigration status or accessing critical, and oftentimes lifesaving health, nutrition, and housing benefits for their families. It is harmful and dangerous. Even though it has not yet been implemented, talk of a new public charge rule has already had the chilling effect of driving immigrants away from public services that they’re legally entitled to, for fear it could jeopardize their immigration status.

The Supreme Court holding addressed the last of the three district court nationwide injunctions in force, thus the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced today that the rule will go into effect nationwide on February 24th, except in Illinois where it is blocked by a statewide injunction.

While we are both alarmed and dismayed that the Supreme Court has allowed the public charge rule to be implemented while the court challenges proceed, the rule may still ultimately be deemed unconstitutional. Catholic Legal Immigration Network, our partner and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, remind us: “…the justices who commented did not say anything one way or another about whether they thought the public charge rule violates the law.”

We encourage you to learn more about the recent ruling by reviewing these excellent resources by the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign:

  1. Public Charge: Does this apply to me?  January 27, 2020
    (How public charge will impact you based on your immigration status, and what you should do)
  2. KNOW YOUR RIGHTS! Public Charge Messages for Community Members January 27, 2020
    (Top messages to share with immigrant communities on the recent changes to public charge)
  3. Should I Keep My Kids Enrolled in Health & Nutrition Programs? January 27, 2020
    (Use this guide to help answer commonly asked questions about how to make good decisions for your family and their health)

We also encourage you to take action with their campaign here!


Feature photograph courtesy of New York Immigration Coalition.


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