Understanding the Public Charge Rule

Last fall, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), a grassroots organization working to empower and organize the community towards justice and self-determination for all, hosted a public charge information session in the Tenderloin to raise awareness about the new rule, how it will affect immigrants and their families, and the resources available in and around the Bay area that range from legal services, rapid response, and connection to social services.

What exactly is public charge? This law is about deciding whether someone who is coming into the U.S., or trying to get a green card from an embassy abroad, is likely to become dependent on public benefits. This is a future looking rule that assesses the answers to questions based on multiple factors, such as age, health, and education. Because there is no definition of the term public charge in immigration law, government bodies can interpret it through their own lens. While the hype around public charge continued to build after the Trump administration announced its intent to implement the law on October 15, 2019, it was officially implemented last month, in February.

There are many myths and misconceptions circulating about who the new rule will apply to, and its implications surrounding the relationship between immigration status and public benefits. The two full-time attorneys, Leila Taha and Amria Ahmed, who are on staff at AROC to help provide low cost legal services, were present to discuss how, in reality, this policy applies to a very narrow category of immigrants, and that most will not be affected. An important thing to remember is that the public charge rule does not apply to asylum seekers and refugees, nor to a range of other special status holders.  The rule also does not apply if the person already has a green card or wants to become a citizen.  It only applies to green card holders, if they leave the country for more than 180 days and try to reenter the U.S. The group at the October event asked many questions and AROC offered 15-minute consultations after the presentation.

Anti-immigrant rhetoric feeds off the idea that immigrants are draining the social systems and are a heavy cost on the state and federal government, when in actuality, immigrants are shown to contribute to and build the economy, pay taxes, and insert their money in the financial market.  The Trump administration is using this rule as a deterrent, so that immigrants will not try to bring their family members through immigration petitions.  The public charge rule, along with the remain in Mexico ordinance, is just one of many roadblocks in the way of a just society that respects the human dignity of every human being. As migration studies students, it is important that we keep informed about the developing immigration laws, as well as connect ourselves with organizations that support and fight for immigrant families and their rights. 

Organizations like AROC are doing great work, building community power through leadership development, political education, and campaigns, and educating immigrant communities about their human and civil rights, as well as providing legal services to the community. Recognizing the diversity of experiences and interests within the Arab community, AROC devises a multi-faceted strategy to meet those diverse needs, while prioritizing the most marginalized sectors of its constituency to inform its work. Through community work, I have come to understand the profound need for organizations like AROC that are able to provide centralized space for analysis, strategy, and the formulation of concrete campaigns and services, to organize for change.

If you have any questions about public charge as it pertains to a specific case, please always consult an attorney for legal advice.

Visit AROC’s website and sign up for their mailing list to receive notifications about upcoming events and updates: http://araborganizing.org/who-we-are

For more info about public charge check out:

Immigrant Legal Resource Center


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