Courts Block New Public Charge Rule

By Reuben Seguritan

On October 11, 2019, the United States District Courts for the Southern District of New York, Eastern District of Washington and Northern District of California temporarily stopped the implementation and enforcement of the Final Rule of the US Department of Homeland Security entitled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds”. This is known as the “public charge rule”. Two of the injunctions are effective throughout the United States.

The definition of “public charge” is a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, either by receiving public cash assistance or long-term institutional care. The public charge rule would make it a lot easier for the government to deny green card applications because the applicant used public benefits in the past or is currently using public benefits.

The blocked public charge rule states that persons who used or are using public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, welfare and housing assistance or those deemed likely to use these public benefits in the future, will not be granted green cards or US permanent residence status, even if they are not primarily dependent on the government or in long-term institutional care. The Rule also requires the submission of a new form, namely, Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency and makes changes to the Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status for all applicants for permanent residence.

USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli said before the case was decided that, “Long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed. An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law”.

The public charge rule would consider a totality of circumstances in assessing green card applicants based on a list of positive and negative factors. Negative factors include being unemployed, not completing high school and lacking proficiency in English, Assets, personal debts, and credit score are also taken into account. Judge Daniels who penned the New York decision stopping the public charge rule, said that “It is simply offensive to contend that English proficiency is a valid predictor of self-sufficiency.”

The Court decisions prevent the USCIS and the Department of Homeland Security from implementing the rule even if it has a stated an effective date of October 15, 2019. They also cannot require the submission of Form I-944, Declaration of Self Sufficiency from applicants, nor make changes to other government forms pertaining to the past or current use of government assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, and housing assistance.

Critics of the Trump administration applauded the court decisions. They said this public charge rule seeks to discourage immigrants and their family members from accessing food and health care, even when they are entitled to these benefits. There were numerous reports of a significant decline in enrollment for federal nutrition programs for pregnant women and children beginning last year when the rule was first proposed. It is likely that people abandoned health, nutrition and housing programs out of fear or confusion of the public charge rule. They added that the public charge rule discriminates against people from developing countries and will jeopardize the health of children when their families avoid the use of nutritional and health programs because of the rule, even when some of them are US citizen children.

It is estimated that the public charge rule would affect about 1.2 million applicants annually, including about 500,000 who are already in the country. Immigration experts said the public charge rule would disproportionately affect applicants from Africa and Latin America and deny their green card applications because they used public benefits in the past or are currently using public benefits.

The case is still ongoing. The government is expected to appeal the decisions in order to implement the public charge rule.