The public charge examines several factors to determine if an immigrant is likely to rely on government benefits. If considered a public charge, the person is less likely to receive a green card or visa if they apply.
Currently, the government looks at use of cash assistance, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), as well as government-funded long-term health care, like nursing homes.
But on August 14, the Trump administration finalized changes to the rule to include the use of SNAP, commonly known as food stamps, Medicaid and Section 8 and public housing.
As a result of the rule change, advocates say, many immigrants who are seeking permanent legal status are disenrolling from government programs they may need.
Last Tuesday night, Borough President Melinda Katz hosted a town hall at Borough Hall to discuss the ramifications on the public charge rule change, and what immigrant communities should know.
“We don’t want it to have a chilling effect on the path to citizenship,” Katz said, noting that when the rule came out, her office submitted testimony calling it an outrage. “It’s against the values of the borough of Queens.
Lovelie Tejada, community engagement manager with the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), which co-hosted the event, said the changes are meant to “create chaos and confusion” in immigrant communities.
It would force affected people to decide between lawful status and going hungry or seeking medical attention, which exacerbates poverty.
“These are impossible choices for anyone to make,” she said. “No one should be penalized for wanting to live a healthy life.”
Immigration advocates who spoke on a panel at the town hall stressed that only a small group of immigrants –– those who are seeking green cards and some visas –– are affected by the rule.
Applications for citizenship are not affected, and refugees and asylees are exempt from the public charge.
John Park, executive director for MinKwon Center for Community Action, said the key message is that people should not panic. Immigrants shouldn’t make hasty decisions on their own without consulting an immigration attorney, he said.
“The rumors are making people diminish their participation and use of public benefits,” Park said. “This is creating a lot of fear and harm to our communities.”
Multiple states, including New York, are challenging the rule. Sonia Lin, deputy commissioner and general counsel for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), said the motion for a preliminary injunction may push back the date for implementation.
She added that any immigrant looking for good, free legal help should get in touch with ActionNYC.
“Misinformation and confusion is the point,” Park said. “Our way to fight back is to get clarity and educate our communities.”