A victory for American values on ‘public charge’ – but the fight continues

Public-charge-dignity-graphicBOSTON, October 11, 2019 – Today U.S. District Court Judge George B. Daniels issued a temporary injunction against the Trump administration's “public charge” rule, preventing the rule from taking effect as scheduled on Oct. 15.

The rule would define any immigrant who uses certain health, nutrition or housing programs as a “public charge,” and enables federal officials to turn away green card and visa applicants preemptively if they’re deemed likely to use such programs in the future.

The case in which Judge Daniels ruled today is one of several lawsuits that have been filed to block the policy, which would effectively shut out working-class immigrants and decimate family-based migration.

“We’ve said from the start that this rule is not only morally abhorrent, but also unlawful,” said Eva A. Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA). “Today’s decision is a victory for American values, and a breath of fresh air for thousands of Massachusetts families whose ability to sponsor loved ones had been in jeopardy.”

In blocking implementation of the “public charge” rule, Judge Daniels found that the plaintiffs – five immigrant advocacy groups and the governments of New York state, New York City, Connecticut and Vermont ­– were likely to succeed in their claims against the administration.

The plaintiffs in this and other cases (including one filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and 13 other states) argue that the “public charge” rule is discriminatory. People who earn less than 125% of the federal poverty line – $32,187 for a family of four – would almost certainly be shut out, and those earning up to 250% of the federal poverty line – $64,375 for a family of four – would face close scrutiny. In Massachusetts, 27% of non-citizens fall below the 125% threshold, and half are below the 250% line.

Though most media coverage and political discussions about “public charge” have focused on public benefits, few people who would be subject to the rule actually qualify for the listed programs; the main factors that would determine green card and visa decisions would be income, English proficiency, education, health status and other predictors of future income and needs.

Millona urged immigrants who plan to apply for green cards or visas to make the most of the extra time provided by the court ruling. She also urged immigrants who don’t know if the rule applies to them and fear that using public programs could hurt them to get more information before making any changes.

“Anti-immigrant forces have deliberately used the public charge rule to scare and shame immigrants who participate in safety-net programs,” Millona said. “Don’t let their tactics succeed. Immigrant families deserve to make full use of programs for which they are eligible, and should continue to do so.”

NOTE: Federal judges hearing four additional legal challenges to the public charge rule blocked implementation after this statement was issued, two of them also nationwide.

To learn more about “public charge” and find resources for advocates and consumers, go to www.miracoalition.org/pif