Immigration Advocates Relieved as Judges Block New Public Charge Rule

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Immigration advocates across Texas are breathing a sigh of relief after a new rule targeting low-income immigrants was blocked in federal court.

Three federal judges have issued nationwide preliminary injunctions temporarily barring Trump administration officials from enforcing the rule, which was set to go into effect today.

“This rule has caused a lot of fear among the immigrant community,” said Jamie Olson, a policy analyst for Feeding Texas.

The new rule changes would have widened the definition for what makes an immigrant a public charge, a determination that would block them from applying for permanent residency in the United States. Immigration advocates say that confusion over who the rule applied to led many people to forgo unnecessarily public assistance like food stamps and Medicaid.

Judges in New York, Washington and California issued the injunctions last Friday, stopping the rule from going into effect until the lawsuits have made their way through the court or been dismissed.

“I'm just extremely pleased to see the courts pumping the brakes,” said Cheasty Anderson, a senior policy associate for the Children's Defense Fund – Texas. “This was the Trump administration’s attempt to do an end run around Congress.”

Anderson and Olson both emphasized that the rule could still go into effect, but not until a court action releases the hold on the law. At the moment, there's no way to know when that might be. For the time being, both women say this is an opportunity to educate immigrants about whether the rule applies to them and to reassure families.

“Our work now turns to letting families know that, at least for the immediate future, there will be no new public charge rule," Anderson said.

Texas Department of Health and Human Services statistics show that roughly 3.5 million Texans are eligible for SNAP benefits and about 3.8 million Texas residents were enrolled in Medicaid as of July 2019. 

So far, the proposed rule change's biggest impact has been through fear and misinformation. Few immigrants are eligible for public benefits to begin with. The rule deals only with individuals directly seeking permanent resident status. Even if the changes go into effect, those people will still not be penalized for public assistance use by family members who are not applying for green card status. For instance, immigrant parents whose citizen children use SNAP do not have to worry, even if the new rules do go through in the future.

“It's very scary trying to go through the process of applying,” Olson said.

This proposed rule and others that the administration have hinted at, but not formally announced, very clearly target low-income immigrants and disproportionately affect immigrants of color, Olson said.

“In all of these rules, you can see that essentially the effect is curtailing immigration, particularly for immigrants that are low income,” she said.

While the public charge rule change could still go into effect, it stays the same for now. Immigrants to whom the new rules would apply will not be penalized for continuing to use public benefits and should do so, Anderson said.

“The top-line message for immigrants and families,” Olson said, “is that your family should continue to use the services for which you are eligible.”

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