NEW YORK – Take this as an example: an Indian middle class couple living in New York become American citizens. Soon, they sponsor their aging parents and siblings, nephews and nieces from rural Rajasthan – who lack required education and skill set to be part of the urban milieu, for permanent residency, a Green Card. After some years, they get it, move in with the couple. But the couple cannot support them financially. The new immigrants struggle to integrate socially, fail to get a job with the required salary to survive in the city.
From almost day one of their arrival, the new immigrants turn to US government help for survival. Be it food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), housing vouchers or Medicaid, free lunches for children in schools, and myriad other ways of public assistance, they eke out a life, hoping for a better future. The burden of their upkeep is passed on to American taxpayers.
The Trump administration issued a rule on Monday that will soon clamp down on immigrants who cannot sustain themselves financially but hope to become permanent residents, by applying the ‘Public Charge’ rule, with a wider ambit.
Legal immigrants living in the US or overseas, hoping to get a Green Card, will be scrutinized by the Department of Homeland Security to gauge if they will be able to survive financially with their own resources, or through the help of their sponsors. If deemed unable to do so or if there’s likelihood of them becoming a public charge in the future, they would be denied permanent residency.
The new rule will be effective from midnight of October 15, 2019, and all applications from thereon will come under its purview. It doesn’t affect existing Green Card holders or existing applicants for a Green Card.
The new rule defines the term “public charge” to mean an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).
The rule further defines the term “public benefit” to include any cash benefits for income maintenance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), most forms of Medicaid, and certain housing programs.
The regulation has some exclusions from the public benefits definition: public benefits received by individuals who are serving in active duty or in the Ready Reserve component of the US armed forces, and their spouses and children; public benefits received by certain international adoptees and children acquiring US citizenship; Medicaid for immigrants under 21 and pregnant women; Medicaid for school-based services (including services provided under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act); and Medicaid benefits for emergency medical services.
This rule also makes certain legal immigrants in the US, including possibly H-1B visa holders and F-1 student visa holders who have received designated public benefits above the designated threshold ineligible for change of status and extension of stay.
The DHS clarified that this new regulation does not apply to humanitarian-based immigration programs for refugees, asylees, Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs), certain trafficking victims (T nonimmigrants), victims of qualifying criminal activity (U nonimmigrants), or victims of domestic violence (VAWA self-petitioners), among others.
This rule also explains how USCIS will exercise its discretionary authority, in limited circumstances, to offer an immigrant inadmissible only on the public charge ground the opportunity to post a public charge bond. The final rule sets the minimum bond amount at $8,100; the actual bond amount will be dependent on the individual’s circumstances.
“For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation’s immigration laws. President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, in a statement, on Monday in releasing the new rule.
Speaking to NPR on Tuesday, Cuccinelli, said of future immigrants: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” taking words from Emma Lazarus’s words on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty, to make his case. He added: “If they (immigrants) don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be counted against them. All immigrants who can stand on their own two feet, self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, would be welcome.”
Needless to say, the new rule will hit especially hard applicants for Green Card under the family reunification category. Trump has spoken often on the need to curb legal immigration on that front and usher in a new era of a points-based system of immigration, with the scale tipped heavily in favor of young, skilled, highly educated immigrants.
The outcry against the new public charge rule has already started, with many immigration experts warning there will be plenty of legal hurdles ahead, with the case possibly ending up in the Supreme Court. The National Immigration Law Center said it would file a lawsuit to stop it from taking effect.
However, there can be no arguing that America will benefit from closing glaring loopholes in its immigration and public benefits system which has been exploited for decades.
Take the SNAP, or food stamps program, for instance.
Forbes reported last year that even though the average monthly benefit for 2016 was a mere $125.40 per person (eligible for individuals making annually $15,684 or less), according to government statistics, there’s been rampant growth in benefit fraud. It jumped to $592.7 million in 2016, up a staggering 61% from $367.1 million in 2012, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.
In 2016, the number of fraud investigations totaled 963,965, up more than 30% from 2012. Almost half of those investigations were in New York State. Typical fraud is exchange of benefits for cash or other ineligible items or purposefully misrepresenting information on SNAP application.
The White House released a statement on Monday endorsing the new rule. It pointed out Americans widely agree that individuals coming to the country should be self-sufficient, with 73 percent in favor of requiring immigrants to be able to support themselves financially.
“We must ensure that non-citizens do not abuse our public benefit programs and jeopardize the social safety net needed by vulnerable Americans,” the statement said.
The White House pointed out that large numbers of non-citizens and their families have taken advantage of America’s generous public benefits, limited resources that could otherwise go to ‘vulnerable Americans’.
Citing statistics, it said 78 percent of households headed by a non-citizen with no more than a high school education use at least one welfare program; 58 percent of all households headed by a non-citizen use at least one welfare program; and half of all non-citizen headed households include at least one person who uses Medicaid.
What the Trump administration needs to do, however, to streamline and make effective the new public charge rule, is to give transparency to grounds of denial of a Green Card application. Arbitrary denials will result in never ending legal proceedings.
There has to be set criteria as to what constitutes gross annual income for a family to be deemed not likely to be a public charge, and also factors like generous time frame for new immigrants to settle in and perhaps gain skill sets and education with their own resources or sponsorship, before they can integrate well into society, and not become a burden on tax payers. Also, there has to be due consideration in times of recession.
What is really ambiguous at present now, and of concern to immigration advocates, is the question of applicants ‘deemed’ to be a public charge in the future. This is the gray area which might see applications rejected at the discretion of officers overseeing individual cases, with little or no chance for legal recourse.
In effect, what the Trump administration plan to do through the new public charge rule from October 15th, is to implement discreetly their vaunted plan to screen legal immigration applicants based on a points system like Canada which takes into consideration education, skill set, health, age, and overall value and future contribution to society.
Welcome to America.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)