In February of this year, the new public charge rule took effect. While adjudicating officers have always been permitted to deny applications based on evidence that the applicant was (or would become) a public charge, this new rule gives officers a much greater authority to do so. It allows them to assess a wide range of factors (e.g. assets, debt, education, income, skills, etc.) to make this determination. As a general rule, any applicant who receives certain public benefits for more than 12 total months in a 3-year period can be defined as a public charge.
For many, this new rule could not have come at a worse time. Millions of people in the United States—regardless of immigration status—are struggling to endure the medical and financial effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Because of the public charge rule, however, individuals who hope to become lawful permanent residents are refraining from seeking medical treatment and applying for government assistance. Even individuals who currently possess green cards are foregoing financial and medical support to avoid jeopardizing their status.
On the day the President declared a national emergency, USCIS issued an alert on their public charge page explaining that individuals could use public assistance for COVID-19-related matters without jeopardizing their status.
Judge George Daniels of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, however, was not convinced that this alert was enough to encourage individuals to seek treatment and assistance. At the end of July, he officially enjoined the Department of Homeland Security from applying the public charge rule at any point during the COVID-19 national emergency. "No person,” Judge Daniels said in his ruling, “should hesitate to seek medical care, nor should they endure punishment or penalty if they seek temporary financial aid as a result of the pandemic's impact."
Judge Daniels explained that the public charge rule is inhibiting the nation’s attempt to keep the virus under control, as not everyone is willing or financially equipped to seek the treatment they need. Additionally, the public charge rule fails to take into account any “real world” situations (i.e. natural or manmade disasters, warfare, etc.) that could force anyone of any status to seek assistance from the federal government.
It is not clear whether public benefits used during the pandemic could affect an application filed after the national emergency. However, we can expect immigrant advocacy groups and lower courts to continue the fight against unfair immigration policies.
Come to Gambacorta Law for Dedicated Support
Are you applying for a visa or green card? Policies, procedures, and requirements have begun to change on a regular basis, which makes it exceedingly difficult to navigate the immigration system on your own. Fortunately, our team at Gambacorta Law is staying abreast of new updates such as the injunction on the public charge rule. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge you need to make fully informed decisions, as well as represent you when your wellbeing is at stake.