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The Trump Administration’s New “Public Charge” Rule

boydadimmigrationrallyThere’s been no shortage of things to write about over the past two-and-a-half years, either substantively or otherwise.  The Trump Administration’s (or Stephen Miller’s) decision to change the “public charge” rule ranks up there as one of the most important things that I’ve had an opportunity to address.  Assuming no litigation to stop the change, the proposed change to the “public charge” rule will dramatically expand the number of immigrants that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) could deem ineligible for lawful permanent residence (i.e., for Green Cards) or admission to the United States on account of income level and prior use of certain public benefits.

As often is the case in these articles, a little context is in order.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an individual may be denied admission into the United States or denied the ability to become a Green Card holder if he or she is “likely at any time to become a public charge.”[1]  An individual who has previously been admitted to the United States may also be subject to removal / deportation from the United States based on a separate public charge ground of deportability.  There are certain exemptions to these provisions (e.g., for refugees and asylees).

DHS and the Department of State (DOS) are the agencies that implement the INA’s public charge provisions. DHS addresses whether to make a public charge determination when an individual applies to become a Green Card holder in the United States.  DOS, on the other hand, makes its own public charge determination when its consular officers review applications for immigrant visas (the document that allows an individual to enter the United States as an LPR).

Although the INA does not itself define what the term “public charge” means, DHS guidance has defined it to mean a person who is or is likely to become “primarily dependent” on “public cash assistance for income maintenance” or “institutionaliz[ed] for long-term care at government expense.”[2]  Historically, in determining whether an individual meets the definition for public charge inadmissibility, a number of factors must have been considered, including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills. No single factor will determine whether an individual is a public charge.[3]  Also important in the consideration is whether the petitioner who, e.g., sponsored his or her qualifying family member, submitted a sufficient “affidavit of support”.[4]

On August 14, 2019, DHS published a final rule governing the INA’s public charge grounds of inadmissibility. It goes effect on October 15, 2019.  If not prevented from going into effect, the rule will have a chilling effect on families throughout the country who choose to forgo essential services to avoid imperiling their immigration status. (Candidly, the very announcement of the new rule has already had this chilling effect.)

The new rule dramatically changes the standard by which DHS determines whether an applicant for a Green Card or admission to the United States is “likely at any time to become a public charge.”  Under the new rule,[5]DHS removes the consideration of whether an individual is primarily dependent on public benefits, and now redefines public charge as a noncitizen who receives a specified public benefit for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.[6]  This rule will severely punish individuals for seeking basic needs and will no doubt put families at risk of separation.

As alluded to earlier, under current law, a petitioner (e.g., family member) for someone applying for a Green Card or admission as an immigrant is typically required to file an “affidavit of support”, which wasn’t always outcome-determinative as to whether an individual would likely at any time in the future become a public charge, but was very helpful in swaying that determination in favor of the applicant.  Not so any longer under the new rule.  Under the new rule, DHS adjudicators will apply a complex totality of circumstances test that weighs the individual’s age, health, family status, education and skills, and assets, resources, and financial status, all while taking into account a broad range of positive and negative factors. DHS has also indicated in the final rule that it interprets “likely at any time” to mean that it is “more likely than not” that the individual at any time in the future will receive one or more public benefits defined by the rule.

There are many consequences to this new rule.  The new rule is far more restrictive than current policy, and no doubt will result in higher denial rates for those applying for Green Cards that are subject to public charge determinations. Moreover, the new multi-factor test will leave too much discretion to DHS adjudicators and likely will also produce inconsistent and unpredictable decisions.

As bad as all that is, and it’s bad, more importantly the announcement of the new rule, and its implementation, has created and will now exacerbate a chilling effect felt throughout immigrant communities.  According to the Urban Institute, about 14% of adults in immigrants families indicated that they or a family member opted not to participate in a non-cash public benefit program in 2018 because of their concern over jeopardizing their green card eligibility.[7]  Again, this new rule will punish individuals for seeking very basic needs.

This new rule is yet another brick in what has come to be known as Trump’s (or dare I again say Stephen Miller’s) “invisible wall”, which has been nothing more than far-reaching policies and practices restricting legal immigration to and in the United States.  Enough is enough.

[1]INA §212(a)(4); 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(4)(A).

[2]See“Field Guidance on Deportability and Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” 64 FR 28689 (May 26, 1999).

[3]An exception to this would be the lack of an “affidavit of support,” if one is required for an individual to become an LPR or to be admitted to the United States.

[4]Seee.g., 8 U.S.C. §1183a.

[5]8 C.F.R. §212.21(a).

[6]The new rule defines a public benefit as (1) Any federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, including: (a) Supplemental Security Income (SSI), 42 U.S.C. 1381 et seq.; (b) Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), 42 U.S.C. 601 et seq.; (c) Federal, state, or local cash benefits programs for income maintenance (often called “General Assistance” in the State context, but which also exist under other names); (2) Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 7 U.S.C. 2011 to 2036c; (3) Section 8 Housing Assistance under the Housing Choice Voucher Program as administered by HUD under 42 U.S.C. 1437f; (4) Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (including Moderate Rehabilitation) under Section 8 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437f); (5) Medicaid, with certain exceptions, such as benefits received by individuals under the age of 21 and pregnant women (or for a period of 60 days after the last day of pregnancy); and (6)

Public housing under section 9 of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937.

[7]http://www.urban.org/research/publication/adults-immigrant-families-report-avoiding-routine-activities-because-

immigration-concerns.

Immigration in the News

screen_2x.jpgThe other day, I saw the following headline on the NBC news site: Rep. Steve King: I drank from the toilet-fountain hybrid at border facility and it was ‘pretty good’.  The article describes Rep. King’s recent visit to a migrant detention center where he explains that he “went into that cell where it was reported that they were advised they had to drink out of the toilet” and that drink was “pretty good.”

I’m sorry, what?

I’ve worked in this field, either as a lawyer or an advocate, for over 30 years now. Immigration has always been a hot topic, but never the proverbial third rail of politics as it is today (and has been for about the last three years).  When I read the article, I thought it would be interesting (but ultimately found it to be rather sad) to take a sampling of other immigration-related articles that have been in the news cycle over the last month or so. Here a just a few:

  • Many Moms Say Kid’s Health Worsened in Immigration Custody. According to the New York Times, a Dilley Pro Bono Project study found mothers who were detained this past summer reported that the health of their children worsened in custody, including bouts of fever, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Pentagon Details Programs Targeted for Cuts to Fund Border Wall. The Wall Street Journalreports that the Trump administration plans on diverting $3.6 billion from military-construction projects in 23 states, 3 U.S. territories and at least 19 countries to build or fortify portions of the President’s wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.  Recall, of course, that the President has told us countless times that the wall would be paid for by Mexico.
  • Chief of U.S. asylum office reassigned as White House pushes for tighter immigration controls.According to the Washington Post, in what appears to be a demotion, the head of the asylum office at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) is being removed from his job and reassigned, “a move that follows multiple White House-directed attempts to raise new barriers to those seeking humanitarian refuge in the United States.”

As I write this article, the articles above are just from the day before. Here are a couple more from August.

  • Trump Administration to Divert Hurricane Relief Funds for Border Detention. Just days before Hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas, and was on track to impact coastal areas of the United States (although not Alabama), The Wall Street Journalreported that the Trump administration planned on using $271 million of Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) appropriated funds, including some funds designated to help hurricane-stricken areas, to detain and remove immigrants who unlawfully cross the southern U.S. border.
  • Fed Up With Immigration Backlog, Lawyers Head to the Courts. As a result of what I can only say feels like unprecedented backlogs and delays, Bloomberg reports that attorneys are turning to the federal courts in an effort to “unclog” massive immigration application backlogs, some lasting up to seven years for simple applications.

There are so many more.  The new “public charge” rule,[1]the immigration raids in Mississippi and the countless kids left parentless as a result of them, and so on and so on.

What have we become?  Who have we become?  The bad news seems endless, and with it, we see almost daily dramatic changes in DHS policy under the Trump administration which have and continue to undermine our legal immigration system that the agencies that were created to facilitate.

There are processing delays, changes impacting students and scholars, changes in the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility, not to mention the ever-present issue that U.S. employers undergo annually to hire coveted H-1B, H-2B or H-2A nonimmigrant workers.

We need to hold DHS and the President accountable for the hardship they are creating to families, vulnerable populations, and U.S. businesses around our great country. The public deserves no less.

[1]I will be addressing this very critical change in a separate article.

Back to School : Immigration and Education

camp counselorsAs I write this article, we’re now into September, the end of summer is here, and my kids are heading back to school. One of my sisters-in-law is an elementary school teacher in the area, and invariably when we gather at family events, she tells me that her best and hardest working students are those from other countries. She also tells me that those kids’ parents support their kids and their education in ways she does not see with their U.S. citizen counterparts.  As she states it, it just seems to mean more to them.

This always makes me think about immigration and education in America. There are so many ways to approach this. From elementary school through college and beyond, foreign students and their parents face a myriad of challenges, including simply attaining their educational goals, including accessing college.

All children, regardless of their immigration status, have a constitutional right to attend our nation’s public schools from kindergarten through high school.[1] While a quality education can provide low-income Americans and immigrants with a path out of poverty, the challenges confronted by students who are not proficient in the English language create additional hurdles for immigrant students.  Yet, as my sister-in-law always notes, they and their families work very hard to succeed.  And this success can be measured.

During the Trump presidency, we’re becoming numb to the inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants, and it seems that the President’s focus for the 2020 elections will not be on traditional kitchen table issues, but rather divisive and misleading statements about America’s borders, asylum seekers, and the like. The undertone of all this is that some how immigrants pose both a physical and economic threat to native-born Americans.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are some facts:

  • According to the Brookings Institution, children of immigrants tend to attain educational outcomes that are like those of native-born Americans, but with higher rates of college and postgraduate attainment (i.e., they are more likely to be highly educated).
  • According to the Cato Institute, 43% of all recently-arrived immigrants are college graduates, compared to 29% of native-born Americans.          

Fast-forward to what happens after these kids get out of college:

  • A June, 2011 report from Partnership for a New American Economy states that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants and their children, employing over 10 million people worldwide.

According to Inc., immigrants launch 20% of U.S. businesses despite being only 13% of the population.

There’s no shortage of data on the positive impact of immigration on our economy. And an argument can be made that it all starts with a quality education.  While the federal government imposes significant restrictions on foreign students who wish to come to the United States to study (e.g., they most show that they have sufficient funds to cover all their expenses during their anticipated course of study), many states, including New York, are now becoming more progressive in enacting tuition equity laws for those foreign nationals already present in the United States.

Generally, these laws permit certain students who have attended and graduated from secondary schools in their state to pay the same tuition as their “in-state” classmates at their state’s public institutions of higher education, regardless of their immigration status.  Some states, New York again also included, offer financial assistance to students who meet certain criteria, regardless of their immigration status.

These laws are being enacted to help young people (like Dreamers), who were brought to the United States by their parents, through no fault of their own, who have worked hard in school with the hope of going to college and often discover that they face obstacles preventing them from doing so, again not of their own making.

And, playing it forward from what my sister-in-law tells me, the students (and their parents) who benefit from these policies tend to be very goal-oriented, with very high academic standing.  Why in the world would we want to hinder their academic success when the resulting benefits of their education are so positive for America?  Among other things, immigration makes America great … and always has.

[1]Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202 (1982).

Not-for-Profits and the Importance of Immigration Advocates

clinicSome of you know that I was engaged by the late Sr. Maureen Joyce, the then-CEO at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany, in July 2000, to help Catholic Charities launch an immigration program that would serve low- and no-income individuals from a 14-county area in and around the Capital Region. Catholic Charities created the immigration program to foster and facilitate family unity, freedom, and citizenship for eligible foreign-born persons by providing low-cost and high-quality legal services. Catholic Charities also engages in public advocacy and community training and outreach to advance the fair treatment of our nations’ immigrants, and to protect the rights of such immigrant and refugees.

My initial task was to obtain accreditation for the agency with the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), which is part of the Executive Office of Immigration Review (“EOIR”), so that Catholic Charities could provide services to individuals who were in need of immigration assistance. Once we did that, I hired a staff of one, who works part-time. More recently, we’ve hired another individual, who also works part-time. My work for the agency is part-time. Although Catholic Charities is authorized by the BIA to charge fees for its services, to date we never have.
The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., commonly known as CLINIC, is the legal support arm for Catholic Charities’ immigration programs across the country. CLINIC was established in 1988 by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to support the rapidly growing network of community-based immigration programs like ours in Albany. CLINIC’s creation enables Catholic organizations across the country to get the necessary training and institutional support they need to provide low or no cost immigration legal services to those in need.

Here are just a few facts about CLINIC:
• In 2017, CLINIC’s network conducted an estimated 276,000 consultations, more than half of which became cases for network agencies.
• Also, in 2017, CLINIC’s network filed approximately 247,000 applications, petitions, motions, or waivers. Those applications served about 500,000 people, including the applicants themselves and their dependents.
• Volunteers accounted for more than 84,000 hours of assistance in 2017, enabling programs to provide legal services to a broader base.
• And finally, also in 2017, CLINIC supported nearly 5,400 community outreach presentations, which reached nearly 325,000 people, all of which provided necessary and importation information about legal rights and options.

There are many “perks” of being member organization of CLINIC. For me, the biggest perk is being able to work with, and be supported by, a group of seriously talented immigration lawyers and advocates. Last month, and each year for nearly the last twenty, I have attended CLINIC’s Annual Convening. Among other things that takes place at the Convening, attorneys and advocates gain insight and premier education about immigration law, program management and advocacy. The Convening moves around the country each year. This year we were in Pittsburgh. In the past, we’ve been to Tucson, Portland, New Orleans and of course Washington, D.C. Regardless of the location, I come home every year so incredibly impressed by the level of knowledge that the attorneys and advocates who teach the programs have, and their incredible commitment to protect the dignity and the rights of the immigrants that they and we serve. I marvel at how much they know and how much I still have to learn. I am so incredibly grateful for their incredible passion and commitment.

CLINIC’s staff trains close to 10,000 people a year, in topics ranging from the basics of immigration law to the nuances of representing clients in detention and removal / deportation proceedings. It’s hard work and it’s very complex. They make it seem easy, and more than anything, it’s clear that they love what they do. It’s very motivating. When I return each year, I am energized to keep trying, to perhaps do just a little more.
In these very tumultuous and politically troubling times, CLINIC’s work, and ours at Catholic Charities in Albany, is more important than ever. Given the current political climate, the current make-up of Congress, and the fact that President Trump has shamefully shown no humanity to almost all immigrants except for perhaps “the best and brightest”, the work of CLINIC, its member agencies, and frankly all not-for-profit immigration programs across the country, needs your support. We all need to do our part.

The Law of Asylum and Politics

The midterm elections have come and gone. No one could (or should) disagree, no matter what your political affiliation is, that the politics leading up to and even since the election were and continue to be toxic, at best. Case in point was and is the President’s use of the “caravan” of migrants that trekked across Central America (that he claimed were going to invade our southern border) as the impetus to issue an “asylum ban”.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Specifically, on November 9, 2018, the President issued a proclamation that, in conjunction with a rule promulgated by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice, bars any individual from seeking asylum who enters the United States from Mexico between official ports of entry. The proclamation will remain effective for 90 days (and can be extended) or until the establishment of a so-called “safe third country” agreement with Mexico.

Advocates not surprisingly (and in my view appropriately) are up in arms, arguing that the President’s action eliminates fundamental due process protections for asylum seekers. They specifically argue that U.S. law clearly states (and it does) that all persons arriving to the United States, no matter where they enter from, have the right to seek asylum. It is true that not everyone is eligible for asylum, but nevertheless, under current U.S. law, everyone has the right to pursue it no matter whether they seek asylum at a port of entry or otherwise.

Specifically, section 208(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) provides that “any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States … whether or not at a designated port of arrival … may apply for asylum[.]” This seems pretty clear to me.

As a result of the President’s actions, several immigration advocacy organizations sued in U.S. District Court in San Francisco to halt the asylum ban. In a ruling issued on November 19, 2018, U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar temporarily blocked the President’s policy of denying asylum to migrants who cross the southern border into the United States without inspection, saying the policy likely violated federal law on asylum eligibility. Really? No kidding.

Judge Tigar wrote that “[w]hatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.”

The Trump Administration appealed, and just recently, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 decision, also refused to immediately allow the Trump Administration to enforce the ban.

The asylum ban represents yet another effort by the President to turn away those seeking protection under our asylum laws. Since taking office, the Trump Administration has detained more asylum seekers, it created the infamous policy that separates asylum-seeking families in connection with its “zero-tolerance” policy, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the decision Matter of A-B-, which restricts the ability of domestic and gang violence survivors to obtain asylum.

Writing for the 9th Circuit, Judge Jay Bybee, a nominee of Republican President George W. Bush, stated, “Just as we may not, as we are often reminded, ‘legislate from the bench,’ neither may the Executive legislate from the Oval Office.’

Collectively, all of the President’s measures undermine our country’s longstanding commitment to protect those fleeing violence and persecution. Since its inception, the United States has been a beacon for those pursuing freedom and protection against persecution. The President and Congress can ensure the integrity of our borders while still upholding these fundamental truths. They just need to do it thoughtfully and lawfully.

Politics, Mid-terms and the Immigrant Caravan

border patrol nogalesThe midterms are upon us. I don’t need to tell the readers of this blog how I hope it ends up.

I was struck recently by two quotes I saw within moments of each other about the “caravan” of immigrants trekking across Central America that are, according to President Trump, preparing to invade our southern border. On the one hand, there’s former Vice President Biden saying “[t]he press is not the enemy of the people. Immigrants are not animals. My hope and prayer is that all of our leaders will work to lower the temperature in our public dialogue, and I have faith that they will do that.” In contrast, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen recent stated that there is no “intention right now to shoot at people” from the Central American migrant caravan if they attempt to cross the United States border. I would suggest that Secretary Nielsen’s statement is not quite “lower[ing] the temperature in our public dialogue” that Vice President Biden was suggesting.

Days after I read the above quotes, and in stark contrast to the above quotes, I read a comment by Tarek El-Messidi, a Chicago-based activist who helped coordinate a fundraising effort by two Muslim organizations that raised about $200,000.00 to help victims and their families following the shooting massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. “Putting our religious differences or even your political differences aside, the core of all of us is that we have a shared humanity. … We really wanted to reach out as human beings to help.”

The politicization of our broken immigration system (and yes, it’s very broken and has been for way too long) is brutal to watch. Our political climate is toxic right now and we need more thoughtful approaches to some of the terribleness that we’re seeing (like Mr. El-Messidi’s response) to the massacre that took place in Pittsburgh.

The immigrants stuck in our broken immigration system, whether they are here lawfully or not, are paying a very big price. For example, in April 2018, President Trump implemented a “zero tolerance policy”, which as anyone even barely paying attention to the news knows resulted in the widespread and inhumane separation of parents and children arriving together at the United States southern border. The President’s policy mandates the prosecution for illegal entry of everyone apprehended between ports of entry, including those who are lawfully allowed to seek political asylum in the United States (no matter where they enter).

During the President’s first two years, his administration has also implemented policies that are undermining the independence of our immigration judges and weakening due process in the immigration court system. The changes adopted by the Department of Justice over the last year include steps to impose numerical quotas on immigration judges and attempts to curtail procedural safeguards. Immigration courts play an important role in affording noncitizens an opportunity to present claims for relief and stay in the United States. The administration’s changes threaten the integrity of these courts.

There have been other issues too, including among many others, the Trump administration’s efforts to rescind DACA relief for Dreamers, congressional efforts to curb legal immigration, and of course, who can forget the Travel Ban?

More recently, along with the ridiculous rhetoric in connection with the caravan, are the President’s claims that he will end birthright citizenship by means of Executive Order, vows to hold undocumented immigrants in detention until they could be deported, and to block asylum seekers from claiming asylum if they are caught crossing the border outside of legal ports of entry. Oh, and lest I forget, the President has a plan to send thousands upon thousands of our military personnel to save the country from the “bad hombres” and “Middle Easterners” in the caravan preparing to attack our southern border.

Please, make him stop.

I don’t know who’s in the caravan, but the data (i.e., the facts and not the fake news) does not support any of the President’s statements that these individuals are “bad hombres” or even “Middle Easterners”. More than likely, these individuals are leaving their home countries in search of a better life (i.e., seeking refuge from political violence in Honduras where the caravan originated), just like our ancestors did when they left Europe and arrived on Ellis Island. We welcomed them then. We should do so now.

Recently, in a rambling and pretty much unintelligible speech from the White House, which was as always filled with lies and falsehoods, the President once again politicized the immigration debate. He once again chose politics instead of offering real solutions, when he announced plans to rewrite U.S. asylum law and procedures and to construct tent cities where families and asylum seekers could be detained for years.

Not surprisingly, as with any proposal that the President has offered mere days before the midterms, details of the plan are conspicuously absent, but instead will be forthcoming after the election. Of course they will. Just a little more red meat for his base. Please, make him stop.

 

[1] DACA stands for Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

[1] The President claimed that only 3 percent of asylum seekers show up for immigration court proceedings when the Department of Homeland Security’s own numbers show that the vast majority appear for their scheduled hearing.

 

Melania, Stephen Miller, and Immigrant “Haves vs. Have Nots”

dreamstime_xs_62076674-copyOn the one hand, we have a President who is married to a naturalized citizen of the United States.  To my understanding, Melania Trump was originally an O-1 nonimmigrant in the United States (a temporary visa status reserved for, in her case, a fashion model of extraordinary ability in business) who later used a comparable immigrant category to obtain lawful permanent residence.  She then, eventually, applied for naturalization and became a citizen of the United States.

Fast forward, in what can only be described as a case of chain migration (something the President has professed to being opposed to), the President’s wife then petitioned for her own parents to come to the United States as immigrants, as she has the legal right to do under the law. Fast forward one more time, Mrs. Trump’s parents do come to the United States and, after a period of time, they apply for naturalization themselves, something they also have the right to do under the law.  These naturalization applications, according to recent news reports, were granted.  I work with clients every single day under similar fact patterns.

Juxtapose this with the fact that the President, himself individually and through his minion, Stephen Miller, is actively pursuing a policy to make it harder to become a lawful permanent resident (i.e., a Green Card holder), or for some lawful permanent residents to obtain citizenship.  This is on top of all the other ridiculousness we’ve witnessed thus far over the summer, including the forced (and in many instances continued) family separations, actively opposing the continuation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”), among other acts of stupidity and egregiousness.

How is this so?  How can a man who’s own wife (indeed even his own ex-wife too) and who’s own in-laws are immigrants to this country be so callous and cold-hearted to literally an entire class of human beings (i.e., anyone who was not born in the United States but yet wants to permanently reside in the United States)?  Can someone explain this to me?  Is the President’s family better than all the other aliens who want to become permanent residents of the United States?  Or do they simply have more means?

And what about Mr. Miller?  It seems that his family too were immigrants to the United States, arriving through Ellis Island from what is now Belarus.  It seems that Mr. Miller’s relatives fled anti-Jewish pogroms and forced childhood conscription in the Czar’s army at the beginning of the 20th century.  According to news reports, the first decedent of Mr. Miller arrived in the United States knowing no English and with $8.00 in his pocket.  He peddled street corners and worked in sweatshops.  And by all news accounts, he worked hard and become very successful.  That’s a great story.

With that as backdrop, the President, through Mr. Miller, is now pushing to enact a policy that could penalize legal immigrants whose families receive a wide array of public benefits and make it more difficult for them to obtain citizenship.  At its core, the President’s proposal would penalize lawful permanent residents if they or their family members (including their U.S. citizen family members) have ever used government benefits (e.g., health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, some forms of Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit).  If I was a permanent resident, because one of my sons receives services from the county, I could actually be impacted under this law.

Up until 1996, lawful permanent residents were eligible to receive public benefits on the same terms as U.S. citizens.  In 1996, however, Congress passed a welfare reform law that barred permanent residents who resided in the United States for less than five years from participating in any means-tested public benefit programs (e.g., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program, and food stamps).  The 1996 law labeled newly arriving immigrants who might not be able to provide for themselves as “public charges,” making them inadmissible unless they could demonstrate that they were not subject to that provision of the law.

The law still allows for the removal of lawful permanent residents who, within five years of their arrival to the United States, become public charges.  That said, administrations prior to the current one have limited the public charge definition in this context to immigrants who use cash welfare programs or long-term institutional care funded by the government.  Consequently, very few people have been removed from the United States.  All this could change, however, if Mr. Miller gets his way.  How so?

The law would redefine the terms “public charge” and “means-tested public benefits” to include a much wider variety of federal programs. Second, the government could remove legal permanent residents for using benefits. Under the President’s proposed policy, lawful permanent residents could be removed for using a wide variety of public benefits, potentially including food and nutrition assistance, federally subsidized health insurance through Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act, and even education benefits.  Third, although the law currently allows immigration officials to refuse to admit prospective immigrants to the United States who could become public charges, the new policy, as currently written, could be interpreted to make a high-school degree or better a prerequisite for admission to the United States, or for someone to have a certain amount of assets. (This would obviously not impact the President’s in-laws, but could severely impact low-income or less well-educated immigrants from coming to be with their families).  And finally, although also on the books now, the new policy would instruct federal agencies to request reimbursement for benefits used by legal immigrants. (This rarely happens now.)

So, where does that leave us?  The haves and have nots?  It sure sounds like it.  It sure sounds like the President and Mr. Miller are attempting to portray legal immigrants as a drain on our system, somehow taking advantage of people like you and me.  This is simply not the case.   According to the CATO Institute, “[o]verall, immigrants are less likely to consume welfare benefits and, when they do, they generally consume a lower dollar value of benefits than native-born Americans.”

Mr. Miller’s family is an example of how immigrants can come to the United States, work hard, and become successful.  But not everyone’s experience in America will be perfect, and sometimes individuals need to lean on our government for some help.  No one should be forced to make a decision between ensuring their legal status in the United States is preserved against making sure their family is healthy and can eat.  No one should ever have to make that decision.

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