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What are the proposed changes to U.S. Immigration rules?

Last October, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposed updates to its “Public Charge Rule.” The new version of the rule could scare eligible immigrants away from valuable public benefits that could improve their health and increase their financial stability.

The Public Charge Rule allows immigration officials to deny a person’s application to enter the U.S. or stay in the country permanently if it is determined the applicant is likely to be a “Public Charge.” A Public Charge is loosely defined as a person who depends primarily on the government for survival. For example, someone who relies on cash assistance for income may be considered a Public Charge. No single factor determines whether someone is a Public Charge. Officials can consider age, health, financial status, and whether an applicant has received certain government benefits in the past when making the determination.

The proposed changes to the Public Charge Rule would give immigration officials a wider range of public benefits programs to consider when deciding if someone is likely to be a Public Charge. For example, benefits programs like SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, and Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers would now be considered when they were not considered before.  This would likely increase the number of people who are denied immigration status under the Public Charge Rule.

The new rule has not yet been approved, but it has already caused fear and confusion among immigrant communities. Media outlets have reported that immigrants are terminating their benefits out of fear of being labeled a Public Charge if they apply to change their immigration status in the future. Without benefits, it will be harder for families to get the food and healthcare that they need. Legal Aid is concerned about these developments, and will pay close attention to the effect this rule would have on our clients who are immigrants and their families.

This article was written by Russell Hauser and appeared in The Alert: Volume 35, Issue 2.