Public charge rule’s enforcement impacts South Asians seeking green cards

Ritu Jha-

In a big blow to people working in the United States on H-1B visas and hoping to get permanent residency in US to realize their American dream, the Trump administration has started enforcing a regulation that could deny green cards or legal permanent residency to legal immigrants from Feb. 24 onward if those immigrants are seeking public benefit programs.

The decision to enforce comes after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday which lifted the final remaining injunction on the ‘public charge’ regulation.

The final rule published on Aug. 14, 2019, was originally scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 15, 2019, but could not be implemented because of various court rulings.

The ruling prescribes how the Department of Homeland Security will determine whether an alien is inadmissible and ineligible to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident in the US because the alien is likely at any time in the future to become a public charge pursuant to section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will now apply the Final Rule to all applications and petitions postmarked (or submitted electronically) on or after Feb. 24, 2020. For applications and petitions sent by commercial courier the postmark date is the date reflected on the courier receipt.

According to USCIS, the new rule includes a requirement that individuals seeking an extension, stay or change of status demonstrate they have not received public benefits over the allowed amount since obtaining the non-immigrant status they are seeking to extend or change.

“President Trump is enforcing this longstanding law to prevent aliens from depending on public benefit programs,” the White House said, adding that the Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that those seeking to come to the US cannot be a public charge.

The new rule will “have the long-term benefit of protecting taxpayers by ensuring people who are immigrating to this country don’t become public burdens, that they can stand on their own two feet, as immigrants in years past have done,” Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of USCIS, had said earlier.

USCIS implemented the Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final Rule on Feb. 24 nationwide, including in Illinois, following the court’s ruling lifting the injunction in that state.

The move is a concern among the South Asians seeking permanent residency and fear that the new rule could adversely affect families of hundreds of immigrants, especially for people from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, as many of them access public benefit programs.

Unhappy at the enforcement of the Final Rule, Lakshmi Sridaran, executive director at South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), told indica, “There are many South Asians who could be impacted by the public charge rule that goes into effect today, given that thousands of South Asian families access critical public benefit programs like SNAP and Medicaid and that they, like everyone else, have paid into over the years.

The government can now deny a green card application based on an applicant’s current or potential use of these programs by deeming them a “public charge,” Sridaran  said. More than 10% of South Asians in the US live in poverty; nearly 61% of non-citizen Bangladeshi families receive public benefits for at least one of the impacted federal programs, including TANF, SSI, SNAP and Medicaid; and 48% of non-citizen Pakistani families and 11% of non-citizen Indian families also receive public benefits.

Lakshmi Sridaran
Lakshmi Sridaran, SAALT

She added that last week, the Supreme Court decided to remove the final order blocking the public charge rule, allowing this administration to move forward with implementation and continue its message to communities of color that the US is for the white and wealthy.

She added, “Right now, it is critical that families do not forgo these life saving programs despite this latest action because the use of these public benefits does not automatically make you a public charge.”

“We are urging concerned community members to get the facts on the implementation of the rule, and then make the best choices for their family. The ‘Know Your Rights’ resource from the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign is essential when making that decision,” said Sridaran.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national, nonpartisan, non-profit organization working for racial justice and advocating for the civil rights of all South Asians in the US, according to the organization’s website..

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