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By Ella Rawls, Chair, DSC Immigration Task Force / JFON Attorney

Earlier this year the Supreme Court decided to allow the Department of Homeland Security to implement newly revised rule regarding whether intending immigrants that are currently low-income would be deemed “likely to become a Public Charge.” This new rule forces millions of immigrant families to choose between protecting their immigration status or accessing critical and often life-saving health, nutrition, and housing benefits for their families. Anyone who is attempting to obtain lawful permanent resident status through a family member (spouse/parent/21+ Child) and whose application is post-marked ON or AFTER February 24, 2020, will be subject to the new rule.

Historical Background:

Historically, the Department of Homeland Security has focused on whether someone was primarily dependent on the government for their financial subsistence; examples are receiving cash assistance, supplemental security income (SSI), or government-funded long term institutional care. The emphasis was on the petitioner/family member and fiscal sponsor that proved through their financial documents they were capable and ready to financially support their family member for a period of ten years. This contract with the US government would outlast divorce or estrangement between family members. The contract also was enforceable by any state of the federal government in the event that an immigrant applied for and received public assistance, requiring that the sponsor pay back any assistance given the immigrant (within the ten year period).

New Rule:

1) Receipt of Public Benefits

The new determination on whether a potential permanent resident “is likely to become a Public Charge” is based on many factors. The most widely discussed segment is about the receipt of public benefits. The new rule delves into whether an intending immigrant has relied at all on the federal or state government or agency. This includes any benefits the intending immigrant qualifies for and has received under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), non-emergency Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) benefits, and section 8 public housing benefits. Please note that most of these applicants did not qualify for most of these benefits before the new rule was implemented and this rule has to do with the impact of receiving these benefits on their obtaining lawful immigration status.

2) Additional Factors

Many intending immigrants who are subject to Public Charge are not eligible for the benefits listed above, but that does not mean that they are not at risk of a Public Charge finding anyway.

The characteristics that could result in a Public Charge finding include the following:

  • having income less than 250% of the poverty level;
  • being unemployed;
  • being under age 18 or over age 61;
  • having a disability;
  • having debt or a low credit score;
  • having limited English proficiency.

Federal Poverty Guidelines and what 250% looks like:

If you have a family where the petitioner is married to the beneficiary, and there are just the two of them and NO ONE ELSE – making 250% of the poverty guidelines = $42,275. Here is a chart to explain the new income requirements:

  • Family size of 2 (petitioner and beneficiary) = $42,275
  • Family size of 3 (including beneficiary) = $53,325
  • Family size of 4 (including beneficiary) = $64,375
  • Family size of 5 (including beneficiary) = $75,425
  • Family size of 6 (including beneficiary) = $86,475
  • Family size of 7 (including beneficiary) = $97,525
  • Family size of 8 (including beneficiary) = $108,575

Conclusion:

Until earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security was enjoined from allowing these more restrictive rules to take effect because of various lawsuits nationwide. Some of the reasons cited for opposition to the new rules are the widespread impact it would have on particularly Latin-American and African immigrant families/applicants with larger families because of the income requirements. The chilling effect it has already had on those who are NOT impacted by the new rule (current permanent residents and US Citizens) and are already withdrawing from public benefit programs to avoid (perceived) loss of immigration status and the fact that this rule is aimed at the intending immigrants will be required to show a high level of education, high level of proficiency in English, and a high-income level. Additionally, it is a bit ironic that not working is a negative factor, when employment authorization is typically not granted until just before, if not after, when an intending immigrant is granted lawful permanent resident status.

While there is an existing law that allows those with great wealth to enter the United States, it was never a requirement for those with family ties in the United States, until now.

Once upon a time, our country was proud of accepting those who merely showed up on our doorstep, offering opportunity and prosperity; it is no longer. Once upon a time, our country said that families, no matter how large, should be allowed to reunite in the United States and prosper together; it is no longer.

You can find the current 2019 Federal Poverty Guidelines at www.uscis.gov/I-864P. This new rule takes effect on February 24, 2020; please spread the word. If you would like to contact your Congressional leaders about your thoughts on this new policy, click on the buttons below.

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Find out more about immigration issues in the Desert Southwest Conference. Visit https://dscumc.org/immigration-response/ to find the latest news and resources for ways to respond.

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