This week the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a new rule that would expand the categories of public benefits that would prohibit legal immigrants from qualifying for entry into the United States or permanent residency. Under the proposed rule, the Administration would restrict the ability of immigrants to access safety net programs that they, like many people, depend on during times of economic recession or underemployment. Use of these benefits would be taken into account when applying for a visa or applying for Legal Permanent Residency.
The proposed rule would radically expand the definition of public charge by including the use of programs such as housing assistance, Medicare and Medicaid, and nutrition programs including SNAP. Currently, immigrants have access to the same assistance as other families who struggle to meet basic needs while working in low wage positions or when laid off due to company failure or economic conditions. This proposed rule will have wide-scale impact. For example, one estimate shows that "more than half (53%) of foreign-born spouses who are currently eligible for green cards could suddenly find themselves ineligible if the DHS public charge rule is enacted."
Access to these programs is critically important for all families because low-wage positions often have inconsistent hours, lack benefits, and even full-time employment at minimum wage by a single parent could leave a family living below the poverty line. By linking visa status adjustments and longer-term residency decisions to use of public assistance, this proposed rule would force working families to choose between food and healthcare today and their immigration status in the future. The proposed changes are made even more callous as they would apply to mixed status families; a family with immigrant parents and U.S. citizen children could be separated if the parents ever utilized public assistance.
General Convention calls on the Episcopal Church to live out its Scriptural duty to advocate for compassionate and just treatment of immigrants and to urge our government to "ensure that needy immigrants are not unfairly denied access to essential services and benefits." Our faith calls us to respect the dignity of every human being and secure access to safety net programs that lift and keep people out of poverty and address basic food and health care needs for all vulnerable populations. The proposed rule would not make our country safer, and it would not balance the federal budget; it would only exacerbate the barriers struggling families must overcome to find their footing in the midst of economic uncertainty.
How can you help?
The rule will be posted in the federal register and the public can make comments on this proposed rule for 60 days. The government will then review those comments before issuing a final rule. Make a public comment on regulations.gov to discuss the need to reject the proposed changes and protect immigrants and their families. Resources provided by Protecting Immigrant Families will instruct you on how to format your comments. We are also collecting and updating resources as they become available on our immigration page.
Speak out against this harmful proposal and urge the U.S. government to enact policies that align with our Christian obligation to aid immigrants and ease their transition from being strangers to becoming neighbors.