Immigrants rights orgs, advocates join forces to fight Trump’s public charge rule

The controversial rule change that could affect to take effect Oct. 15

NEXT month, the Trump administration’s changes to the public charge rule will take effect but not before immigrant rights’ groups have a chance to challenge it.

In August, the Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized the changes made to the federal public charge rule, a test immigration officials use on immigrants to determine whether or not government programs will be incoming immigrants’ sole source of financial, nutritional and shelter support.

If a legal immigrant uses benefits like Medicaid, housing assistance and/or food stamps for more than 12 months of a 36-month period, they may be deemed a “public charge,” which could threaten their chances at getting a green card or lawful permanent resident status.

The rule is not retroactive, meaning that if an immigrant used these programs in the past, that won’t factor into any future public charge test to which they may be subjected.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), reasoned that the rule change is designed to encourage “self-sufficiency” among immigrants and favor “hard-working” individuals and families.

“Throughout our history, self-reliance has been a core principle in America. The virtues of perseverance, hard work, and self-sufficiency laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States,” Cuccinelli said in a White House press conference on Aug. 12.

The Trump administration’s rules are set to take effect on Oct. 15, 2019, but pushback from legal and civil rights organizations, statewide government officials and immigration rights activists — who say that the rule “penalizes” immigrants for using government benefits — could change the course.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed against the DHS and the USCIS for the public charge rule changes.

Last week, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a preliminary injunction to get a judge to move forward with the suit, asking for an Oct. 3 hearing.

“This change would dramatically change and reshape our nation’s legal immgiration system and basically institutes a wealth test into our immigration system that’s grounded in racial animus,” Connie Choi, campaign field manager for the National Immigrant Law Center’s (NILC) Protecting Immigrant Families campaign, told ethnic media outlets in a teleconference on Thursday, September 5.

“Only a family of four making $64,000 a year will deemed fully safe from this rule and an estimated 26,000 families and individuals will suffer the consequences, especially those within black, Asian American and Pacific Islander, Arab, Muslim, South Asian and Latinx communities,” Choi added.

Referencing the Trump administration’s strict immigration proposals as a whole, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) said that “the public charge rule is a part of this assault” on immigrant communities.

“It puts a price tag on entering America [and] it’ll make it harder for immigrants to try to make it in this country which means more hunger and more sickness,” Chu said, adding that even before the rule has been officially applied, “it has already inspired fear in jeopardizing [immigrants’] citizenship status.”

In addition to instilling fear among immigrants seeking green cards and visas, the rule change could also affect the U.S. economy. There are 35 million legal immigrants in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center, and about 10 million utilize public benefits.

A 2018 report from the nonpartisan Fiscal Policy Institute found that the economy could suffer a $33.8 billion loss if 35% of immigrants who use public benefits left those programs.

“Immigrants are a net benefit to our economy and our society,” Thu Quach, director of Asian Health Services, said. “This change is wrong and humane and we are fighting this in the courts, in Congress, on the streets and at the polls in 2020.”

However, the controversial rule change has sparked confusion and concern among immigrants over whether or not they are affected.

Legal and civil rights leaders advise speaking with an immigration lawyer before going on or off any public benefit programs because the rule “does not apply to all immigrant communities.”

Community leaders advise undocumented immigrants who may be affected by the rule change to seek legal assistance before going on or off any public benefit programs.

“Above all please don’t panic, and before you do anything, speak to a community-based immigration attorney,” Amanda Lugg, director of Public Health Services in New York, advised immigrants who may be impacted. “The rule is not yet in effect and may not apply to you. And remember, it only applies to the applicant themself, not to family members, and actually it’s a very small group of people who are impacted directly.” (Klarize Medenilla/AJPress)

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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