The Trump administration has been very clear on its tough stance in regards to immigration. While there have been various tactics deployed to strengthen the security of the immigration process or the physical borders shared with Mexico, one of the most significant changes to immigration policy comes with the adoption of the public charge rule introduced earlier in 2020 and solidified in late February.

Now, the Coronavirus pandemic is bringing the rule to the forefront. Individuals with green cards or visas are afraid to seek medical attention in fear that it will jeopardize or terminate their green card status under the revised public charge rule. There is also hesitation to utilize public benefits in order to cope with sudden unemployment or life changes directly from COVID-19.

While proponents to the updated regulation see it as a cost-saving measure for the government, critics see the public charge rule as a way to disproportionately affect low-income immigrants and certain ethnic groups. Critics are also quick to show the current pandemic as a prime example of how this rule has serious consequences to everyone within the United States who is at risk, regardless of citizenship status.

How is the Public Charge Rule Applied?

First introduced to immigration law in 1882, the public charge rule gives the government the ability to deny a visa to anyone who could depend upon government assistance once given admittance into the country. The bill has been brought up in 1952, 1990, and again in 2018 where it was scheduled for implementation in late 2019.

The public charge rule tells caseworkers with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to consider how much a current, or potential, the immigrant would rely upon or benefit from public housing, food stamps, and medical assistance programs. This allows USCIS to reject green card and visa applications of immigrants who would depend on public benefits.

“The proposed regulation by the Trump administration broadens the public charge standard but there are four main, negative factors considered,” says immigration attorney Jim Hacking, “The inability to prove current employment (if not a student,) the certification to receive public benefits, pre-existing medical conditions, and if the individual was found to be deportable on public charge grounds before. These four, horrible factors make it very difficult for people to become legal residents.”

Immigration authorities with the updated public charge rule can now look at the burden a person could represent to governmental assistance in addition to things like their English proficiency and what medical care they may require upon entrance to the United States.

Under the revised rule, a non-citizen immigrant who utilizes food stamps, subsidized housing, or another public benefit for more than 12 months out of a three year period would be classified as a public charge and would not be allowed to enter or stay within the country. The ruling, however, does not apply to green card holders who are applying for a green card renewal or U.S. citizenship.

Coronavirus and the Public Charge Rule

While the public charge rule does not apply to refugees, asylum seekers, or other humanitarian immigrants, the rule could create a ‘chilling’ effect that would discourage many immigrants, who would otherwise not be subject to the rule, to avoid accessing the benefits they need.

The public charge rule has stipulations that specifically exclude Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program assistance from consideration of public charge, but some fear that the rule will prevent immigrants from using the benefits they may be entitled to. Immigrants may reject the assistance for their family to remain in good standing for staying within the country.

This fear is being realized across the country as the pandemic ravages communities and healthcare systems. Individuals who apply for green cards, visas, or other permits to live and work within the country are now afraid to seek medical care in case it is used against them later. Not only does this severely impact that individual, but it could also spell disaster for public health efforts and state endeavors to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Despite recent rulings by the USCIS stating that treatment or preventative services relating to COVID-19 or its symptoms will not negatively affect a future public charge analysis, this ruling may have come too little or too late to help protect the country and immigrants against the novel Coronavirus. The rule also continues to damage immigrant communities by this ‘chilling’ effect and may continue to do so as the year progresses.

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CORONOAVIRUS OR COVID 19 is a disease that disturbed the whole world.
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