Courts block USCIS’s Implementation of New Public Charge Rules

On October 11, 2019 various courts blocked the Trump administration’s implementation of new public charge rules that drastically increase the scope of inquiry for the public charge determination.

The new rules, if ever formally implemented, will prevent applicants for receiving green cards if they have used a wide variety of “benefits” most of which fall well outside the long-standing practice of considering “cash” benefits (often called “welfare” payments). The new rules consider the applicant’s family’s receipt of benefits, even when the family members are clearly eligible for the benefits as US citizens.

Since the announcement of the proposed rules, immigrant families and communities have been in fear of losing their current immigration statuses or being ineligible for future immigration statuses. Schools have seen decreases in enrollments for subsidized school-lunches. Health-care facilities have seen decreases in Medicare enrollment. (Schools and medical clinics may still be helping the same numbers of hungry and sick kids–but they are not getting financial credit (funds) for their numbers because of the decline in official enrollment in the programs. To me, this outcome is completely unacceptable and immoral. The Trump administration is scaring parents into not seeking food and medical care for their children. Like many other humans in the US and around the world, this result of this administrations policies sickens me.

Despite the courts blocking the formal implementation of the rules, the new public charge rules have been sneaking into immigration policy for many, many months. For example, many embassies/consulates are requiring additional documents for immigrant (“green card”) applicants and temporary visa (such as tourists and students) to prove that they will not be “public charges.” For example, people with medical conditions that would clearly be eligible for medical treatment in the US (that is, there is proof of future medical insurance) have been denied visas because they cannot prove ability to pay for treatment or prescriptions out of pocket. Similarly, tourists and students have been asked to prove that they will carry full insurance in the US–something that in most cases (at least that I know of) is impossible for a non-resident of the US to prove.

Until the Trump administration, one of my main jobs as a lawyer was to tell clients the law and the likely possible outcomes of their interaction with the law. Under this administration, we are bombarded by unconstitutional, illegal and/or immoral policies and proposed rules almost on a daily basis. Many of the proposals go no where legally but almost all of them have one effect of the administration: to make people live in fear. My practice has been affected. For example, while these horrible public charge rules are not “officially” in place, I now counsel clients on how to deal with the issues as if those rules were in place. I have talked with parents about making a difficult decision of whether to get their children covered for health insurance for which they qualify or to forgo such benefit to avoid any potential problem with immigration applications. What a horrible decision for a parent to have to make. Let’s hope that this madness ends soon. If you are eligible to become a US citizen, apply now so that you have a chance of voting in the presidential election of 2020!