Public Charge: An Attack on All Immigrants

A few weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposed rule that will change how the government looks at immigrants who have used or are likely to use public benefits. This proposed rule would enforce outrageous standards for evaluation, like using an immigrant’s credit report and score to determine whether they are or are likely to become a “public charge.” To put this into perspective, a credit score of 640 (a below average FICO score) could mean the difference between receiving and not receiving a green card.

The proposed rule characterizes toxic America values that fail to acknowledge and respect the contributions of all immigrants regardless of financial status.

If implemented, the rule will make it difficult for: 1) immigrants who are currently outside of and seeking permission into the United States to receive a visa; or 2) immigrants who are already in the United States and are applying to become a legal permanent resident (or green card holder) through a family member or their employer.

At the core of the proposed rule is the federal government’s effort to expand the list of public assistance programs that will be considered when evaluating an immigrants’ eligibility to secure status. The current public charge policy only considers cash assistance and government-funded long-term institutional care but the proposed rule would expand it to also include the following key social safety net programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), non-emergency Medicaid, Medicare Part D, and Section 8 housing vouchers.

This is a deliberate, mean-spirited tactic employed by the administration to further harm vulnerable immigrant families in the United States.

Aside from expanding the definition of public charge to include additional public assistance programs, the proposed rule would also set forth short-sided standards for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to consider when making public charge determinations.

In the proposed rule, the federal government outlines a new household income threshold that highly favors immigrants with a household income over 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (which, for a family of four, is more than $62,000 annually). The proposed rule would also mandate immigrants to disclose their credit history and score as a weighted factor of their financial status. Its expansion of public assistance programs along with its increased breadth of scope for factors, like financial status, would penalize non-citizen immigrant families for a lack of “self-sufficiency”, or in other words, for being low-income.

The underlying message to immigrant families is what’s most worrisome — choose between receiving critical public assistance for the health and well-being of you and your family or secure your future immigration status in the United States.

This is a cruel and unjust dilemma to impose on low-income immigrant families. But the fact of the matter is, this proposed rule will not affect low-income immigrant families alone. It is already causing widespread fear amongst all immigrants–including their US Citizen children.

As a nonprofit that supports immigrants, MAF understands the importance of financial security and access to safe and affordable loan products. We recognize the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by all immigrants in the United States to overcome financial barriers. Not only is this proposed rule heartless and unjust, but it creates barriers to upward mobility for low-income and immigrant families. It is designed to deny these families a chance to thrive.

In over ten years of supporting thousands of low-income individuals, families, and immigrants to establish their credit, we know that an individual’s income and credit report alone doesn’t depict a clear picture of their entire financial situation.

MAF, like many other nonprofit direct service providers, will witness the harm DHS’ proposed rule related to public charge will cause on immigrant families. This proposed rule is an inhumane and punitive attack that will destroy the health and well-being of vulnerable immigrant families across the nation.

Last Wednesday, DHS recently published its proposed rule in the Federal Register, an act that marks the commencement of a 60-day public comment period that will close on Monday, December 10th. It is during this 60-day public comment period that our action against public charge matters more than ever. 

The fight is far from over and the time to act is now!

MAF is committed to advocating for our immigrant communities and opposing this repressive proposed rule. Whether you decide to use your voice during the public comments period or you’re interested to learn more about our work to support immigrants; we encourage you all to stand with us as allies in service to the fair and just treatment of all immigrant communities.

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