Separating myths from facts on public charge


CWE and Make the Road NY host public charge panel discussion


Community-based organizations and advocates for immigrants came together on October 18th at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies for a panel discussion on changes to the public charge regulations for immigration applications, organized by the Consortium for Worker Education and Make the Road NY. The policy, which seeks to make it harder for low-income people to apply for legal permanent residency through family based petitions, has stoked fear in immigrant communities, especially as myths have spread faster than facts.
“The Consortium for Worker Education wants the organizations that serve our immigrant communities to understand the nuances of public charge, so our immigrant families can make informed choices about their benefits and their legal status,” said Darly Corniel, the Consortium for Worker Education's Education Director, who opened the panel.
The U.S. has long had regulations limiting the immigration of those who were deemed likely to become a “public charge.” The rule was designed to prevent people who would be primarily dependent on the government from obtaining permanent residency status. Immigration attorneys on the panel said it rarely was an impediment for immigrants applying for green cards.
The Trump administration is seeking to change that by expanding the rule in ways that would bar many more immigrants. The policy was temporarily blocked by federal judges earlier this month, but its announcement was enough to scare many, especially families receiving benefits.



“It actually touches very few people who are receiving benefits, but the fact that it is out there has created confusion that has kept people away from city services,” said Sonia Lin, Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel at the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Service providers have to help immigrants separate myths from facts about the public charge rule. First, the new rule is not yet in effect, and may never be. Further, most people who are eligible for public benefits will not be impacted by the changes to the public charge rule, if it ever does take effect, because they are usually already citizens or legal permanent residents, or they are receiving state-funded versions of these benefits. Conversely, most people who would be impacted by these changes are not eligible for any government benefits in the first place. Public charge is not taken into account as part of the citizenship application or the asylum process. Also, the administration’s newly-expanded rule only covers some benefits. Medicaid for those under 21, WIC, food pantries, and child health plans are not part of public charge.
Unfortunately, due to rumor and confusion, many immigrants who are not impacted by public charge are dropping out of benefit programs they need and are eligible for.
“People should continue to apply for benefits and use their benefits,” said Becca Telzak, Director of Health Programs at Make the Road New York. “If the rule does go into effect, they should get an individual consultation.” 
For help answering their individual questions, immigrants can call the city’s ActionNYC hotline at 1-800-354-0365 between 9AM - 6PM, Monday - Friday or they can call 311 and say "ActionNYC."



To be clear, the proposed public charge policy is a big problem, because it seeks to expand the factors taken into account when someone is applying for a green card through family based petitions, by looking at if they may receive public benefits in the future. It would create a huge barrier for low-income immigrants - those whose incomes are below 125% of the federal poverty line - from becoming legal permanent residents through family based petitions, regardless of whether they are using public benefits. Additionally, it would make it harder to be approved for a green card if you are under 18 or over 61, have a health condition, or are not proficient in English. Almost 50% of U.S. born citizens would fail to meet the policies’ many requirements, the speakers said. 
With so much misinformation out there, city leaders and immigrant advocates are working to get the facts of the public charge rule to New York’s millions of immigrants. New York Immigration Coalition, for example, is working with its network of smaller community-based organizations to educate newer, harder-to-reach immigrant communities. 
Service providers should expect to get questions about public charge that do not refer directly to the policy. Clients may say, “I want to stop receiving benefits,” or “I don’t want to apply for benefits because of immigration.” They should be asked more questions and referred to a consultation to ensure they are not dropping out of benefit programs that they need and will not impact their immigration status or prospects.
New Yorkers should also continue using city healthcare services, said Chris Keeley from NYC Health + Hospitals. “Healthcare as a service is not something that would be a problem under public charge,” he said.



CUNY Citizenship Now! has been working to help as many New Yorkers as possible submit their green card applications before any changes in the public charge regulations take effect, said Stephanie Delia, a Managing Attorney at the program. In the lead-up to the anticipated effective date for the public charge rule, CUNY Citizenship Now! helped 600 New Yorkers submit their applications. With the rule now delayed, they will continue working to serve New Yorkers under existing law. 
Whether or not the changes to public charge ever go into effect, immigrant communities are already being impacted by the perceived impacts to their benefits. The Consortium for Worker Education and its partners are doing all they can to ensure immigrants get the information they need to care for their families.