Frontera Fund News Trump Watch

The Trump Administration Moves to Block Immigration Using New Definition for Public Charge

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Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

We at Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund always strive to bring you the latest information on immigration news, sometimes forecasting what will become top headlines months in advance. On February 22, 2018, we blogged about the first moves inside the Trump administration to curb LEGAL immigration by blocking legitimate immigration benefits applications through expansion of the public charge definition.

It is official now, and it is making headline news.

The federal government has previously made it difficult for people to immigrate to the U.S. if they are likely to become a “public charge,” which is defined by USCIS as “an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”

But now, the Trump administration is expanding the public charge designation to all people who have received any public benefit, including temporary use of assistance such as food stamps or subsidies for health, energy and home.

This cruel move, which has been in the works for several months, can force poor immigrants to choose between accessing subsidies for their well-being and risking being deemed a “public charge,” or seeking a green card or citizenship.

Never mind that these individuals pay taxes in our communities and report income to the IRS, AND many qualify for these benefits through different programs in states and municipalities across the country.

Additionally, federal officials may be able to deny visas to individuals who are poor and cannot demonstrate economic solvency, since the government may assume they will be seeking assistance in the future.

All the details of this new approach for restricting legal immigration are contained in a 447-page rule, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” which, according to USCIS, will not apply to families making less than 15 percent of the official poverty designation. But the same document gives federal officials a lot of leeway to deem an individual a public charge, even preemptively.

This new rule was published Saturday, September 22. It is very important to note, this policy is not in effect yet and will enter a public hearing stage, where the government will ask organizations to comment about this proposed change.

This is an alarming development. But this move by the Trump administration is activating legal defense organizations as such as the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) and The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and surely will face challenges in court if implemented.