Shortly after the Trump administration took office, leaks of regulatory proposals to radically change existing “public charge” rules began to surface. On March 28, 2018, The Washington Post reported on the most recent version of a leaked proposal that gave us a glimpse into how the administration seeks to drastically reshape our legal immigration system by making it harder for people applying for their green card to overcome this “public charge” barrier.
WHAT DOES “PUBLIC CHARGE” MEAN?
It means that the U.S. government can exclude certain people from getting, or, in some cases, take away their green cards once they have them. If the government thinks that a person applying for a green card is likely to receive public cash assistance in the future, it can decide to deny the person a green card.
Today, under established policies and procedures, green card applicants can overcome this barrier in the application process if their family sponsor (or another financial sponsor) meets an income test. Moreover, once in the U.S. the government may also take a person’s green card away if they use cash assistance benefits within 5 years of getting their green card.
HOW WOULD THIS AFFECT PEOPLE APPLYING FOR A GREEN CARD?
At minimum, it appears that the Trump administration would require applicants to provide new and cumbersome levels of evidence that goes well beyond the use of a sponsor income certification form (known as Affidavits of Support) already required under our laws, and it does so without providing a factual basis for why additional information would be necessary.
The proposed rule could also increase the family income threshold (i.e., the income test) to overcome the public charge barrier from 125% of the federal poverty level to 250%. It would also appear to encourage the use of bonds like those used in the criminal defense and deportation defense contexts for people the government deems too poor to overcome this heightened hurdle.
This change would target the poor, which the Trump administration appears to believe are families with incomes below 250% of the federal poverty line. The graph below shows how egregious that statement is—for example, under this proposal, a family of four would need to make more than $62,750.
|Annual 2018 Poverty Guidelines for the 48 Continental United States|
|Household/ Family Size||Poverty||125 %||250 %|
|Source: U.S. Health and Human Services|
COULD THIS PUBLIC CHARGE ISSUE AFFECT THE LATINO COMMUNITY’S ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE?
This proposed rule change would expand the types of public assistance programs which could subject a green card holder to intense scrutiny by immigration authorities.
The proposed changes would expand the scope of covered programs from cash-assistance programs to include non-cash assistance programs like Head Start, SNAP, Medicaid/CHIP, and homeless assistance.
It would also look at whether a green card holder’s family member received any public assistance. For example, under the last leaked version, the government could look at an eligible family member’s use of public assistance like whether a green card holder’s U.S. citizen child is covered under The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Finally, as noted above, under current rules green card holders are prohibited from using cash-assistance programs like the Temporary Aid to Needy Families Program within five years of receiving a green card. The proposed rule would make the green card holder and their family subject to scrutiny by immigration officials well beyond five years.
SHOULD PEOPLE STILL SEEK HEALTH CARE AND OTHER ASSISTANCE IF THEIR CHILDREN ARE ELIGIBLE?
Yes – Nothing has changed.
Even if the Trump administration decides to move forward and change the public charge rules, it may be a while before any changes are in place. We encourage people eligible to apply for critical health and other public assistance services to continue to do so.
We also believe that we should strike a balance between providing information and taking care not to stir up fears in our communities based on leaked reports. UnidosUS is taking the proactive measure of educating our community about what this would mean, in addition to building a strategy around the possibility of the regulation’s implementation.
WHAT IS UNIDOS US DOING ABOUT THE PUBLIC CHARGE ISSUE, AND HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
No family should have to choose between reuniting with their loved ones and making sure that their children have health care and the nutritious food they need. The public charge issue is one that we are deeply concerned about and are engaging.
For example, during the week of April 16, members of the UnidosUS team met with White House and U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials to raise our community’s significant concerns about this proposed rule.
We are also working as part of a large coalition—Protecting Immigrant Families—which includes a broad range of advocates equally concerned about the issue. You can learn more about the campaign and get additional resources here.
By Carlos Guevara, Senior Policy Advisor, and Stephanie Presch, Content Specialist, UnidosUS