It’s unclear exactly how and when the Department of Homeland Security will begin implementing what’s known as the Public Charge rule in screening immigrants seeking green cards after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 27, lifting a lower court’s injunction that stopped the rule going into effect last October.
The Trump Administration’s rule is designed to deny a path to citizenship to those who are designated as possibly needing to use public benefit programs in the future. An announcement made in 2018 about the change struck fear in immigrants in Monterey County and elsewhere, according to immigration advocates. Thousands of people removed themselves public benefit programs such as Medi-Cal and CalFresh, even if the rule did not apply to them.
The court’s ruling lifts the injunction but the original case against the Public Charge rule change filed by numerous states attorneys general, including California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, continues in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Becerra vowed in a public statement after the Supreme Court announcement to continue to fight against what he described as a “heartless” attack on working families.
The State Department has already been using the rule during interviews at consulates of those seeking to immigrate to the U.S., says Jeraline Singh Edwards, the new directing attorney for the Immigration and Citizenship Program for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Monterey. Officials are asking petitioners—spouses, parents and other immediate relatives advocating for someone seeking to immigrate—if they themselves have used any public assistance in the past.
She says officials are targeting immigrants because they're operating under the theory that, if you can’t support yourself, how will you support someone else?
In determining eligibility, officials are supposed to look at the the circumstances surrounding why someone is using benefits and how much time has passed—for example, lack of income when someone was a student, or a disability claim was filed in the past. "Whether they’ll do that or not is another question,” Edwards says.
Edwards predicts there will be another drop in the number of people using public benefit programs as people continue to be fearful of what the rule could mean for their legal status or that of loved ones in the future. “And then our people will have to choose between whether they can pay the rent or buy food,” she says.
“Mind you they legally qualify for those benefits,” Edwards says, pointing out that they’ve paid taxes into the system and met federal requirements for receiving them.