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Advocacy groups oppose ‘public charge’ rule change

The Trump administration’s proposed expansion of the “public charge” rule will make it more difficult for immigrants to come to or remain in the United States if they take advantage of non-cash forms of public assistance.

Local organizations that support the immigrant community and low income families said Wednesday that the proposed rule changes will essentially turn the U.S. immigration system into a pay-to-play enterprise.

“The ‘public charge’ test has been around for decades and has been used to identify folks who are thought to be reliant on the federal government for financial assistance,” and as a basis to deny someone a “green card,” which allows a foreign national to live and work permanently in the U.S., explained Sovereign Hager, legal director of the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.


Sovereign Hager, legal director, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty. (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

Previously, the federal government denied a green card to individuals if they participated in cash assistance programs, including temporary assistance for needy families, or TANF, Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, for disability-related cash assistance, or government-funded institutional care.

“Now the federal government proposes to add access to food assistance, medical assistance that’s not for an emergency, housing and even health with prescriptions through Medicare, to deny someone a green card,” she said.


Eduardo Garcia, attorney, New Mexico Immigration Law Center (Rick Nathanson/Albuquerque Journal)

The immigrant community, Hager said, nationally contributes many more billions of dollars in taxes to fund these programs than they use when accessing them. If immigrant families are forced to decline the use of these programs, about $400 million in federal dollars will not come through our local economy.

Eduardo Garcia, an attorney with the New Mexico Immigration Law Center, called the proposed public charge rule changes, “a drastic and draconian departure from established immigration policy.”

Ostensibly, he said, the Trump administration proposal is to prevent immigrants from draining resources by only allowing entry to those who come with financial resources. In reality, what it would do is “make it more difficult for average people to migrate to the U.S.”

If it goes into effect, the proposal would not be retroactive, so immigrants who currently take advantage of programs should not give those up, he said. Further, it would apply to people who want to enter the U.S. with a visa, to people with green cards who have exited the U.S. for six months or more and returned, and to people who are looking to adjust their status to become permanent residents.

Neither would the public charge assessment be considered when applying to become a U.S. citizen, to asylum seekers, refugees, children receiving special immigrant status, beneficiaries of visas for crime victims, domestic violence victims, or human trafficking victims, he said.

Garcia also pointed out that “undocumented people are already precluded from any public assistance, with the exception of emergency care.”

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