By Karen Rempel
Since 2017, when President Trump took office and began trying to change US immigration policy, 78,000 New Yorkers who are eligible to receive food stamps or SNAP benefits left the program or didn’t enroll. A draft of a new “Public Charge” rule was leaked in February of 2018, and even though the rule has been overturned for now, residents are scared and uninformed about who the rule applies to and what the proposed changes would mean. To help end this fear and confusion, the City of New York has allocated $30 million for free legal advice. Residents are urged to call a new ActionNYC Immigration Hotline (311 or 1-800-354-0365) if they are concerned about how the rule might impact them. They will get to talk to a lawyer for free, who will help them to determine whether they are at risk if the new rule eventually takes effect.
In the meantime, the Mayor’s Office, lawyers, and healthcare administrators are united in urging New Yorkers to continue to seek required services such as medical care, food stamps, housing assistance, and so on. Commissioner Steven Banks said the Department of Social Services serves three million New Yorkers a year. Banks said, “Many need basic benefits. The new policy was grounded in fear, aimed at dissuading people from seeking benefits they are entitled to. New Yorkers shouldn’t disenroll or refrain from seeking support. They should get legal guidance.”
Commissioner Bitta Mostofi, in the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, said the proposed Public Charge rule would prevent migrants already in the United States from obtaining green cards or renewing visas if they use government benefits or appear likely to do so. The proposed rule also attempts to exclude people on the basis of lack of English proficiency, poor health, or disability.
“Each individual’s case is unique, and USCIS [US Citizenship and Immigration Services] evaluates the totality of circumstances,” explained Chris Keely, a senior director at NYC Health + Hospitals. LegalHealth Supervising Attorney Sarah Nolan said, “New York has a lot of immigrants receiving publicly funded healthcare through the state… These people aren’t eligible for the type of federal benefits that will be impacted by the rule—they are receiving State of New York benefits.” According to Bitta Mostofi, even if the new rule is enacted in the future, it can’t take effect retroactively.
New York City joined with New York State, Connecticut, and Vermont to file lawsuits as soon as the rule was published, about a year ago. California and Washington followed suit. On October 11th, judges in three separate cases enjoined the Department of Homeland Security from implementing and enforcing the Public Charge rule and postponed the effective date of the rule until there is final resolution in the cases. According to The Washington Post, New York Judge George B. Daniels called the new rule “unlawful, arbitrary, and capricious.” Two of the injunctions are nationwide and prevent USCIS from implementing the rule anywhere in the United States.