Administration introduces proposed changes to legal immigration system, discriminating against low-income immigrants

The Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative call on Houstonians to make public comments on the proposed rule.

October 10, 2018– Today, the Trump administration posted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the Federal Register, which proposes sweeping changes that endanger the lives of immigrant families, including families with children born in the United States. The proposed “public charge” rule changes would strongly prejudice immigration pathways toward higher-income people, while raising new high barriers for prospective immigrants if they have lower incomes, or have used government benefits like non-emergency Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), certain disability benefits related to education, Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, or housing subsidies such as public housing or Section 8 housing vouchers and rental assistance.

Immigrants seeking admission to the U.S. from abroad, sponsors of family reunification visas, and individuals seeking to adjust their status to become legal permanent residents (green card holders), are all subject to the public charge test. This determination is based on the “totality of circumstances” about whether an individual has been or is likely to become a public charge. If a person is deemed likely to become a public charge, he or she will be denied a visa, admission to the United States, or legal permanent residency.

The proposed rule adopts a new threshold for households that hope to overcome a “public charge” test – by requiring that the immigrant (not just the sponsor) earn at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level – and by weighing as “heavily positive” a household income of 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. This means, to avoid scrutiny under the public charge test, a family of 4 would need to earn nearly $63,000 annually.

Kate Vickery, Executive Director, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative said,

“Based on our experience, it is reasonable to anticipate that the rule will discourage many Houston area immigrants from accessing health, nutrition, and social services that benefit not only them, but also their U.S.-citizen children. We know that this chilling effect is already taking place, as service providers report immigrant clients dropping out of programs and others failing to access benefits for which they are eligible out of completely legitimate fear and confusion. Ultimately, however, these regulations are a way to decrease legal immigration and limit pathways to legal status for low-income families and individuals.”

The most directly affected immigrants in the greater Houston region will be people applying for an immigration status change or family reunification visa for family members abroad. It is highly likely that the families who are most likely to drop out of programs that they are currently benefiting from are those who have at least one non-citizen family member. In the greater Houston region, 98,000 undocumented immigrants are married to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident and 122,000 are married to an immigrant who is not a U.S. citizen or LPR. In addition, 569,000 children under the age of 18 have a non-citizen parent.

If this test were applied to U.S citizens, up to one out of every three would fail.

The public comment period on the proposed regulations opens today, Wednesday, October 10 and closes on Monday, December 10, 2018. Any member of the public can read the proposed rule changes, and then post a comment directly on, or through the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign.

For more information, visit our resource page.