US Supreme Court ruling changes definition of “public charge”

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The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 Tuesday to uphold the modified definition of “public charge” that was submitted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, in August 2019.

The modified definition would allow dismissal of entry into the United States because of the concern that individuals would depend too heavily on federal assistance.

Some of the factors that determine whether or not a noncitizen meets public charge inadmissibility include age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills. It does not rely on only one factor, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, fact sheet on public charge.

Self-sufficiency and self-reliance are key American values not to be litigiously dismissed, but to be encouraged and adopted by the next generation of immigrants,” said Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary for the DHS Ken Cuccinelli in a DHS press release. “We plan to fully implement this rule in 49 states and are confident we will win the case on the merits.”

Under the new rule, officials will be able to take into consideration previously excluded social welfare programs. According to the USCIS fact sheet, these programs include income maintenance programs like Supplemental Security Income, cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and other state and local cash assistance programs

Immigration and welfare laws have created a lot of concern over whether or not a noncitizen will suffer consequences for benefiting from federal, state or local public benefits, according to the DHS website.

Government aid provided to immigrant families ranges up to $10,000 in cash, according to Berkeley Homeless Services Panel of Experts member Anthony Carrasco.

Now, not only is receiving cash aid from the government an indicator of whether or not you will be indicated under public charge, now it’s CalFresh or food stamps, CalWORKs,” Carrasco said.

According to Carrasco, this decision could heavily impact immigrant families in particular, as low-income immigrant families tend to be the largest demographic that receives these resources and benefits from the government.

According to the USCIS fact sheet on public charge, the “mere receipt” of these benefits does not make a person automatically inadmissible, nor does it automatically make them ineligible to adjust their status or make them deportable. The fact sheet adds that non-cash benefits and special-purpose cash benefits that are not used for income maintenance are not considered under the public charge definition.

“This is really unprecedented as far as immigration policy is concerned,” Carrasco said. “It’s centered solely on deporting not-immigrants who have violated the law. This is targeting immigrants who are poor — the poorer you are, the less likely you will be able to get a green card.”

Contact Audry Jeong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @audryjng_dc.