The Trump administration expansion of Public Charge, proposed in late 2018 and fought in court for a year, can go through after the Supreme Court voted 5-4 yesterday to allow these much stricter proposals to be implemented.
What this means is that people here legally but not permanently, who are seeking to upgrade their status to Legal Permanent Resident (LPR or “green card”), can be denied this status if the immigration authorities decide that they have depended too much on public benefits, including food assistance (CalFresh here) .
This rule has been around for about 100 years, but in its interpretation over the last two decades, there’s been an understanding that food programs and health care programs should not impact a person’s ability to become a legal permanent resident. The focus was always on cash assistance and long term health care. Under the Trump guidelines, the use of publicly funded food, housing and health programs can be a factor in determining a person’s ability to stay in the U.S. permanently.
National Immigration Law Center reports that “The regulation directly affects only a small number of people, but it has already done considerable harm. In addition to the first uptick in America’s child uninsured rate in more than a decade, the Kaiser Family Foundation has reported that about half of community health centers reported people declining or canceling coverage because of the public charge regulation. Anecdotal accounts nationwide suggest similar harm with respect to anti-hunger programs. Experts expect the fear resulting from today’s ruling will deepen the “chilling effect.”
There are some important things to remember as the new policy goes forward:
It does not apply to people who already have Legal Permanent Resident status. If a person in the U.S. already has a “green card” or Legal Permanent Resident status, they need not fear receiving any public benefits. It can’t impact their becoming a full fledged citizen if they desire to do so. “Public Charge” rules apply to people who only have temporary status such as a work permit or student visa, as well as some of the other numerous categories of immigrants.
It doesn’t mean that people can’t apply for benefits they are legally qualified for. If a person in need who is not yet a permanent resident applies for benefits AND meets all the existing requirements for the particular program they apply for, they are entitled to receive those benefits. They should be aware that it may impact their later efforts to become permanently in the U.S. The key word is “may”: if a family or person uses benefits it does not automatically mean they will be denied a green card later.
It should be noted that for some programs, you actually have to be here as a Legal Permanent Resident already in order to qualify.
In immigration interviews, the totality of a person’s circumstances must still be taken into consideration. Even if a family or person who is not yet a legal permanent resident does use public benefits, it doesn’t automatically mean they won’t get a green card later on. The immigration authorities must take into account all of the circumstances surrounding the person when deciding if they are a “public charge” or will have to rely mostly on public benefits in order to survive. For example, a person who works but has had to use public benefits occasionally to get through hard times should, in theory, be more likely to still be approved for a green card than someone who came to the U.S. and received benefits the entire time they were here.
WIC, school meals, emergency medical care and disaster aid is exempted.
Also, “Benefits received by the applicant’s U.S. citizens children or other family members are not considered in determining whether the applicant is likely to become a public charge. Benefits received by an individual who was not subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility when the benefits were received are also not considered.”
And The Fight Will Continue: Paige Winfield Cunningham who reports nationally on health issues points out several things including the fact that the rule can still be struck down by appellate courts in the future. And interestingly enough, the new Trump rules can’t be enforced in Illinois---a lower court has blocked its implementation there.