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Changes to Public Charge

On August 14, the federal administration, through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), announced a new rule related to public benefits and public charge that will go into effect on October 15. The new rule is designed to confuse and exclude people.

What is the public charge rule?

Since 1999, immigration officials have defined a “public charge” as a person who depends principally on the government to survive. Before the recent rule change, officials only considered:

  • Public cash assistance as principal income.

  • Long-term care at the government’s expense. This could be through Supplementary Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), state and local cash assistance sometimes called “General Assistance” or Medicaid, or long-term care facilities such as retirement homes or mental health institutions.

Under the new proposal, officials will now consider:

  • SSI, TANF, General Assistance and long-term institutional care

  • SNAP

  • Housing assistance or Section 8

  • Federal housing subsidies

  • Non-emergency Medicaid benefits (except minors under 21, people with disabilities, pregnant women or mothers within 60 days after delivery)

Under this rule, immigration officials can deny visas to enter the country or legal permanent residency (“green card”) to not only those who are public charges, but to those who are determined likely to become public charges or use public benefits. It is important to note that the vast majority of persons who apply for a visa or legal permanent residency are not eligible for the very benefits which the new rule considers at the time that they apply.

The rule has created confusion and fear in the immigrant community and in La Villita. Citlalli Bueno Lares, Immigration Organizer with Enlace Chicago, tells us that, in an effort to provide information and answer questions, Enlace is planning two workshops. “The first training will be held at the Troy office on August 29 at 10 am for Community Health Workers and Enlace staff. We are still working to find a date for the second training, but it will be held before the end of the 60-day waiting period for the community at large. We want to make sure that every person knows their rights. We are creating educational spaces so that people know their rights and so they know who will be affected and which services they will be able to access or maintain.”

In spite of the fact that visa approval criteria is defined by Congress, DHS plans to expand the criteria. Individuals could be at higher risk of being denied based on these factors:

  • Age: Individuals under age 18 and over age 61

  • Health: Individuals who are determined, through a more rigorous medical examination, to suffer from an illness or condition that prevents them from working

  • Family size: Individuals with a large household

  • Skills: Individuals who are considered to lack skills that enable them to maintain a job

  • Financial state: Individuals who are considered to have poor credit history, or low individual or family income, (the minimum level was raised to $41,140 for a couple with no children, and $73,550 for a family of 5 or more)

In sum, the final rule modifies DHS regulations so that they are much more restrictive for individuals applying for admission (visa) or for adjustment of status (legal permanent residency or “green card”), according to section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It is now much more likely that these individuals may be considered a public charge.

Citlalli believes that, “People are scared. They don’t know if they should keep their children in programs they are attending. It’s going to have dramatic health effects on people in the long run.”

For more information and resources, visit the webpage “Protecting Immigrant Families”

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