In August, the Trump administration issued a new rule about which immigrants should be considered “public charges,” or dependent on public benefits. Immigrants deemed to be public charges are not eligible for further visas or green cards.
Yet, when legal immigrants are hard-hit financially, they can be eligible for public assistance programs including welfare, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and public housing.
Previous administrations have been more generous. “Public charge” mostly meant people who were primarily reliant on these programs, not merely those who had used them. Moreover, an affidavit of support from the immigrant’s sponsor was considered strong evidence that they would not become a public charge.
The new rule would be stricter. Instead of asking whether an immigrant was primarily reliant on public benefits, immigration officers will ask whether immigrants have used certain public benefits for any three months in the last 12. The programs to be considered would be expanded. And, immigration officers would be allowed to consider other factors to determine whether the immigrant would be likely to become a burden on society, such as the size of their family, their credit rating, and whether they had ever applied for food stamps or welfare.
The new rule was set to go into effect on Oct. 15. However, immigrant advocates immediately filed lawsuits to stop it. Several federal district courts found the rule was probably unlawful and issued nationwide injunctions keeping it from going into effect.
9th and 4th Circuits back off of injunction
Now, however, the 9th Circuit and 4th Circuit courts of appeal have ruled that the new public charge rule is probably legal. The two appeals courts lifted the injunctions that the district courts under their jurisdiction had issued.
The 9th Circuit, which includes California, ruled that the Trump administration was likely to prevail in the lawsuit against the new rule. However, one of the nationwide injunctions remains in force. Until that injunction is lifted, the rule will not go into effect.
“We find that the history of the use of ‘public charge’ in federal immigration law demonstrates that ‘public charge’ does not have a fixed, unambiguous meaning,” reads the ruling. “and the Executive Branch has been afforded the discretion to interpret it.”
What does this mean for immigrants?
If you’re applying for a visa, an extension or a green card and the rule goes into effect, you may need to make a strong argument for why you would not be a public charge. This is something best done through an attorney.
If you have questions about this process, contact Yew Immigration Law Group. We have years of experience helping people with immigration law challenges.