In an attempt to drive immigration policy toward a merit-based system, the Trump administration is placing roadblocks to allowing individuals who are poor, old, sick or disabled, have large families or don’t speak English to become legal permanent residents of America.
On Jan. 27, the Supreme Court, in a narrow 5-4 vote, gave the go-ahead to the Trump administration to implement its public charge rule, which limits immigrants who use public assistance from acquiring legal status in the country that they live in.
In a statement, Mayor London Breed called President Trump’s Public Charge rule an unconscionable policy and likely to affect vulnerable immigrant communities.
This is another example of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant stance, making legal immigrants “afraid to use public programs that they have paid for,” said Congresswoman Judy Chu of California’s 27th Congressional District at an Ethnic Media Services tele-briefing recently, arguing that immigrants actually use fewer public benefits than native born people.
Agreeing with Rep. Chu, Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, said that much of the damage has already been done with all the confusion surrounding what is covered and not covered under the public charge rule. “The use of public programs does not automatically make a person a public charge,” and many legal immigrants, even those who might not be assessed under the public charge rule, are disenrolling from public programs, like Medicaid, in the fear that they would come under increased scrutiny, Alvarez explained.
Dave Seminara, a former diplomat, rejects these assertions in a Wall Street Journal column, calling the new rule “nowhere near as draconian as critics suggest.” Quoting his experience as a foreign service officer during the George W. Bush administration, he claimed he was witness to how lax public charge standards were. “Many of the immigrants I interviewed were poorly prepared, with little English and without skills and experiences American employers would require,” he wrote.
Seminara made his case for an immigration system tilted toward the wealthy and educated. “Until Congress enacts a merit-based immigration system, the tougher public charge rules are the best tool, for ensuring that immigration makes America richer rather than poorer.”
I find Seminara’s arguments specious and contradictory. He states that the new public charge rule is “nowhere near as draconian as critics suggest” and then later acknowledges that they might be “tougher” than previously implemented. He also argues that the public charge rule “places no special burden on nonwhite migrants,” offering up the community of 60,000 Kosovars as evidence to that claim without making a comparative demographic analysis and later quotes estimates from Migration Policy Institute “that a majority of future applicants from Latin America and Africa could be denied under the new test.”
The debate notwithstanding, the new public charge rule will take effect on Feb. 24.
The new rule affects those who are in the country legally and are applying to become permanent residents; those trying to enter the country on a legal visa; and those seeking to change or extend their legal status as a student, tourist or temporary worker. Green card holders who are applying to be citizens are not affected by the public charge rule unless they leave the country for longer than 180 days. Neither does it affect refugees and asylum seekers.
The rule sets parameters for admissibility to the country, deeming a person a “public charge” when they use benefits including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing assistance, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income for over a total of 12 months in a 36-month period.
To be clear, a public charge assessment will be made after considering a “totality of circumstances” beyond using public benefits, which include age, health, family status, financial status, education and skills and affidavit of support.
As Madison Allen, senior policy attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy, explained, the rule negatively weighs on immigrants who are younger than 18 and older than 61 years.
Health conditions that prevent working or attending school can become criteria for inadmissibility. However, if the individual has private unsubsidized health insurance, it will count in the individual’s favor.
Under the final rule, applicants must show an annual income greater than 125 percent of the federal poverty guideline (FPG), currently set at $25,750 annually for a family of four. Family size is tied to the income criteria. The larger the family, the larger the income to be shown. This means that a family of four must show an annual income of $32,187 for 2019 in order to escape being flagged as potentially inadmissible. Furthermore, the petitioner/sponsor who fills out an affidavit of support for the applicant must also show income and assets above 125 percent of the FPG level.
English proficiency can weigh positively for the applicant as well as proficiency in languages in addition to English. Additionally, education and the potential for employability are positive factors.
The public charge rule will most affect individuals seeking to join their loved ones as lawful permanent residents in the United States, including spouses, children, older parents and unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.
These taken together will make it easier for wealthy, educated and privileged immigrants to be admitted to America. But as research and experience suggests, America needs lower-skilled individuals, including farmworkers, restaurant and health care workers and those working service-sector jobs, jobs that the native-born population are reluctant to take on. The public charge rule chooses to ignore this labor market need and will end up costing the economy in the long run.
Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. She is a guest columnist and her point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner.