Troubling Update on Public Charge

January 30, 2020

On Monday, January 27, our community received a chilling update regarding the proposed changes to public charge. The Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of allowing these new changes, which had been halted in October 2019, to now be implemented by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) beginning February 24, 2020.

The public charge rule has existed since 1882 and determines whether an individual should receive a visa or green card based on whether he will depend too heavily on U.S. resources in the future. Public charge tests have always included an overview of immigrants’ health, employment status, family size, education, and income. Up until now, the only benefits considered under the public charge test were cash assistance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. These new changes seek to expand the definition drastically. Now, individuals will be judged based on their perceived likelihood of using Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and housing assistance.

With the Supreme Court’s decision, the government is now free to move forward and enforce this more comprehensive public charge test while litigation continues to fight it. Changes to the public charge rule represent an intentionally confusing and discriminatory attack on our immigrant community members who are being forced to decide between feeding and housing their families or seeking legal permanent status in the U.S. These changes will destabilize families, increase food insecurity, and worsen health conditions in communities that are already disadvantaged. Further, the policy has a chilling effect – creating fear across broader immigrant communities  who may not be directly impacted about using social services. This fear jeopardizes the overall well-being of entire families.

While we continue to learn more, we urge our constituents to remain alert and seek clarification from trusted resources like the Arab-American Family Support Center. We ask our broader community to join us as allies in supporting our immigrant neighbors. If someone reaches out to you for clarification, please remember these key pieces of information:

In these uncertain times, we must dedicate additional resources to our Legal Services team to ensure that our community members receive accurate, up-to-date information. Thank you for any support you can provide.

AAFSC will continue to stand in solidarity and in action – working with the city and our partners to fight hatred and discrimination and ensure our immigrant community members are safe, protected, and informed. Please call our Legal Services department at 718-643-8000 or the New Americans Hotline at 1-800-566-7636 to learn more about these changes and plan next steps. As always, we stand ready to support the rights of all immigrants in New York and beyond.