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Trump's New 'Public Charge' Rules On Immigrants: Who Is Affected?

Immigrant advocacy groups in Maine say that the Trump administration's expansion of the "public charge" rule due to take effect Oct. 15 is having a chilling effect on immigrants seeking benefits to which they are legally entitled. The public charge rule allows the federal government to deny green cards to applicants judged to be a financial burden.  As Julia Brown of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project tells Irwin Gratz, the new rules expand the list of benefit programs that could be used to label someone a "public charge."

BROWN: So, that includes food assistance, housing assistance, and non-emergency Medicaid. Most people who have access to those programs are not applying for a green card. Usually they already have a green card. And so we think the reason that they've included these programs in the rule, is exactly for what's happening - which is that people are pulling themselves off. The more worrisome thing that's been added to the public charge rule are all these so-called negative factors. If someone is under 18 or over 61 that's a negative factor. If they don't speak English that's a negative factor. If they don't make 250 percent of the poverty level that's not a positive factor. So, there are a lot of these factors that clearly are attacking family-based immigration from people of color or people of lower income.

GRATZ: Let's again try to be clearer about who is affected by these new rule changes and who is not.

So, let's start with who is not, because that impacts most people who might be listening. So, people who are refugees or asylees or asylum seekers are not impacted by the public charge rule.

And that's especially important because asylum seekers are not allowed to work for six months after they arrive in the U.S.

Exactly. They're not allowed to work for six months until after they've applied for asylum. So, it's often even longer than that. So, these are life-saving programs for people. Other people who it doesn't apply to are people who already have green cards and are applying for citizenship. That's something that we've heard a lot of fear around, are people who are applying for citizenship and may have to access programs to which they're entitled. Public charge does not impact them.

And, then, who is affected?

So, primarily, it's people applying for family-based green cards. There are some visas that are involved as well. But mostly it's people who are being sponsored by someone who is a citizen, or a green card holder and they are applying for a family-based green card in this country.

So, what's the best advice you can give to people who may not be sure that these rules apply to them - or if they do, then how best to preserve their eligibility for a green card?

So, first, I would advise people to look at information. So at www.ilapmaine.org, we have information specifically for Maine. But there's also protectingimmigrantfamilies.org, with very clear categories of who is impacted by this rule.

I take it you've probably heard from a lot of people already in the last month or so about these potential new rules.

Yes. We've been hearing about people concerned about public charge impact on them since last fall, when the proposed rule was published. And we've heard really upsetting stories about families who are entitled to benefits, including benefits that aren't even in the rule, like WIC, or other services, like after-school programs - taking themselves or their children off of those programs. And we want to really make it very clear that no one should be taking themselves off these programs. Even if all of the factors do apply to you,  the rule doesn't even go into effect until October 15th. It's not retroactive, so no one should be taking themselves off of programs. We think that there's a good chance a court might temporarily stop the rule from going into effect. And, regardless if you think it impacts you, should definitely talk to a lawyer before doing anything like taking yourself off of programs.

Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

Thank you so much.

Maine has joined five other states in suing to stop the public charge rule.