THE Trump administration has focused a lot on actions to curb illegal immigration in the last two years, but new regulation changes released on Monday, August 12 may have a dramatic effect on immigrants seeking legal permanent residency or U.S. citizenship.
Set to go into effect in mid-October, the new rule essentially expands who may be considered a “public charge” — a term used since 1996 to describe an individual likely to become “primarily dependent” on the government through public cash assistance or long-term institutionalized care funded by the government.
Whether one is a public charge determines whether one can become a legal permanent resident.
Through the expanded definition, visa and green card applicants who have accessed benefits like food stamps, housing vouchers, or most forms of Medicaid, may be denied a green card or entry into the U.S.
Under the “totality of the circumstances” aspect of the new rule, factors like health, family status, assets, resources and financial status, and education are further among the considerations that may deem an individual to be a public charge.
Exempt from the change are asylum-seekers and refugees.
For supporters, the new rule is a way to modernize the family-based immigration system and save taxpayers billions of dollars.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said during a White House briefing that the expanded definition would encourage and ensure “self reliance and self sufficiency for those seeking to come to or stay in the United States.”
“Our current law, which is generations old, recognizes that some new arrivals to our country need the help of their family and community,” said Cuccinelli. “It requires some of those who seek to live and remain in the United States, to have a sponsor who will be financially responsible for them.”
But critics of the expanded definition say that the new rule was made to punish immigrant families and will result in many families having to choose between maintaining immigration status or meeting basic needs like food.
Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an affiliation of five civil rights organizations, called the policy racist and said it prioritizes wealthy immigrants.
“Public benefits are essential to helping families stay healthy and thrive. Weighting the likelihood of future benefit use, along with discriminatory factors such as English proficiency is unjust,” Advancing Justice said in a statement.
“The administration has intentionally sought to scare immigrants and their families from using public benefits,” it added.
Since the rule change was proposed in October of 2018, over 13% of immigrant adults have reportedly dropped their use of public benefits out of fear of potentially losing their chances at becoming green card status, according to Advancing Justice.
Heng Lam Foong, senior policy manager with the Health Access Project at Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, told the Asian Journal last October that about 3.8 million Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrants relied on some form of public benefit to make ends meet.
Many at the time saw the then-proposed change as a potential public health crisis in that many legal immigrants would similarly find themselves choosing to skip medical appointments in fear that they’d risk endangering their immigration status.
“This could affect our most vulnerable residents: the disabled, seniors, and children. Sacrificing care would lead to worsening medical conditions in which patients could end up in emergency rooms or at health care centers that do not receive federal funds,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis said in a statement on Tuesday.
Asked whether the policy unfairly targeted lower-income immigrants, Cuccinelli responded: “We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet, so if people are not able to be self-sufficient, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident.”
He then suggested that the “totality of circumstances” test made it so lack of self-sufficiency wasn’t the main deciding factor on whether one would be able to become a legal permanent resident.
“A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient; many have been, through the history of this country. So let’s not look at that as the be-all and end-all. It’s not the deciding factor, which is why we continue to use the totality of circumstances test,” said Cuccinelli.
Legal action is expected, especially by those who see the rule change as discriminatory. Solis said that LA County Counsel is currently analyzing the rule and will be making recommendations to possibly join legal action.
“LA County will continue to defend, protect, and fight for its most vulnerable residents,” said Solis. (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)