WASHINGTON — A proposed federal rule change to deny permanent
residency cards to legal immigrants if they become branded a “public
charge” for taking certain federal or state poverty benefits is “a
fear-creator,” said William Canny, the executive director of the U.S.
bishops’ Office Department of Migration and Refugee Services.
makes people afraid to seek housing assistance and food assistance lest
they be seen as a ‘public charge’ and then deported,” Canny told
Catholic News Service.
The Department of Homeland Security filed
its intention Sept. 22 to seek a change in the rule. A 60-day comment
period will begin once the proposed rule change is published in the
Such federal programs that would render a legal
immigrant “inadmissible” for obtaining a green card that allows the
immigrant to work legally in the United States would include the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Medicare part D
prescription subsidies, federal Section 8 housing assistance or living
in public housing.
Any legal immigrant found to have used these
programs, according to the proposed rule, could be declared a public
charge and subject to deportation.
The proposed rule also asked whether participation in the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be included as well.
law on public charges goes back to at least 1882, according to Charles
Wheeler, director of training, litigation and support for the Catholic
Legal Immigration Network.
“Even before then, states, and
colonies, were limiting paupers who were likely to become public
charges, Wheeler said in a Sept. 27 webinar on the proposed rule that
attracted 1,000 participants.
In announcing the proposed rule,
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Sept. 22: “Those
seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support
themselves financially.” It will “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and
protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become
burdens on American taxpayers,” Nielsen said.
effect this rule will have will cause a number of immigrant families to
forgo public assistance,” said Lucas Swanepoel, vice president of public
policy for Catholic Charities USA, Sept. 27. “And if they don’t come to
public assistance, they come to Catholic Charities.”
could be substantial. The Migration Policy Institute says 10.5 million
children live in families receiving public benefits where at least one
parent is not a citizen. And of those 10.5 million children, 90 percent
are themselves U.S. citizens.
“Many of their (immigrants’)
children are born here, they’re American citizens,” said Larry Couch,
director of the National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good
Shepherd. “This is an attack not only on immigrants but on American
citizens,” he told Catholic News Service Sept. 25.
administration puts the number of families, students, employees and visa
holders applying to stay permanently at 382,000.
“It is important
to understand that this proposed rule is an attack on legal immigration
— primarily on families,” according to a statement Sept. 28 by Ashley
Feasley, MRS’ director of policy.
“We are very concerned that the
proposed rule, if it takes effect in the present form, would have
far-reaching impacts on family reunification for those family members
looking to come from overseas to be with family living here in the
United States,” Feasley stated. “Also, this is an issue of family
welfare, as the proposed rule could lead to parents making the difficult
choice of accessing health and nutrition benefits versus adjusting
their status or renewing existing green cards.”