The new Public Charge rule will harm many middle and working class immigrants who have never taken public assistance. The Trump administration’s new rule appears aimed to target all the middle and working class families and young people who believe in the American dream, and who decide to study hard, go to college, work hard, start businesses and advance themselves.

Up until this new rule, USCIS used an objective formula to determine public charge, which required a household income of 125% of the poverty level taking into account the number of individuals living in the household and total household income. Additionally, if the applicant was on some form of cash public assistance, he or she would have to go off that public assistance in order to get the green card. Because it relied on an objective, mathematical formula, the previous procedure to determine public charge was applied generally in a fair and uniform way.

The new public charge rule, more than 200 pages in the federal register, each page having three single-spaced columns, asks the USCIS officers to analyze multiple factors, and make a decision based on the “totality of the circumstances” whether to exclude an applicant based on public charge. The new system is subjective, and leaves a lot of discretion to individual officers, meaning that an officer can decide to deny someone a green card or change of nonimmigrant status, even though the applicant has never received public assistance.

Among the various factors, being younger than 18 or older than 61 is considered a negative factor. Since when have children been considered a “negative factor”? Children are an investment, they are our future. Also, many immigrants rely on their retired parents for childcare and running the household, freeing them up to work many hours. On the other hand, many people older than 61 continue to work. Lacking an employment history is a negative factor, which discriminates against housewives. Thus, the rule discriminates against women, children and the elderly, even if they have never taken public assistance.

Another negative factor is if the applicant does not speak English. Chris Cuomo, broadcast journalist on CNN (and son of former NY Governor Mario Cuomo) and Ana Navarro, Republican strategist and political commentator, have both pointed out that if English ability was the criteria, their parents and grandparents would never have been able to immigrate to the US and they would not be here today.

The adjudicator must also consider the applicant’s health, family status, assets, resources and financial status, education and skills. Even if you have never received public benefits, if you have applied for a public benefit and been denied, this must be revealed and is a negative factor. This brings up another point, which is that most permanent residents (with a few exceptions) are simply not eligible for any federal public assistance programs for the first five years of their permanent residency.

In particular, the new public charge rule seems aimed to target and deny immigration benefits to the Dreamers and other immigrants with the audacity to believe in the American Dream. The new Form I-944, Declaration of Self-Sufficiency requires information about any college loans an applicant has, as well as any credit card debt, mortgage or other liability. What young person who is not wealthy can get through college now without college loans? Many working class and middle class immigrants start their own businesses, and may have to borrow money. How can any middle class family purchase a house without a mortgage?  Not only that, the I-944 requires applicants to provide their credit scores. Since when do you need good credit to get a green card or to change your immigration status?

With a bewildering number of details and considerations, whether or not a person is determined to be a public charge and barred from the US or getting a greencard, may come down to a particular officer’s prejudices and outlook.

The broad effect will be that many immigrants who have never taken public assistance and who most likely would not take public assistance in the future, who are middle class or working class aspiring to the middle class, students, women, children and the elderly will be denied their green cards as a “public charge”.

Copyright 2019 © Heidi J Meyers all rights reserved.