Alexandria, VA

By Immigration Attorney Natalia Segermeister

In 1882, the phrase “public charge” became codified under United States law.

That same year, President Chester Arthur signed into effect the Chinese Exclusion Act. Now, opponents to President Trump’s proposed immigrant wealth test — the so-called “public charge” rule — claim that it harkens back to those same discriminatory purposes of President Arthur.

United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the agency through which would-be immigrants apply for green cards and visas. According to the Trump Administration’s proposed policy, USCIS would be able to deny applications based on whether the agency thinks the immigrant would burden taxpayers. This burden would include the expected or potential use of public benefits, such as welfare or subsidized government housing.

At this point, several nationwide injunctions against the rule have come and gone, leaving just one intact. In January, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan upheld the only remaining injunction that prohibits the administration from implementing its public charge rule.

The merits of the case have yet to be decided. Still, advocates welcome the breathing room this remaining injunction offers to immigrant communities, many of whom have already ceased participating in some fundamental welfare programs. This even holds true for immigrant families with United States citizens.

The Trump Administration asserts that the purpose behind its proposed rule is “self-sufficiency.” The administration says that it wants to encourage self-reliance amongst the immigrant community and not allow people to enter the country who might represent a financial hardship on the U.S.

Xiao Wang, a co-founder of a company called Boundless, which helps people traverse the legal immigration system, was happy to hear of the court’s ruling. Wang, an immigrant himself, came to America in search of the American Dream and does not believe that the country’s borders should only be open to the rich.

Nicholas Espiritu, a lawyer for the National Immigration Law Center, says that his group will continue to work with other advocacy organizations and litigate against what he calls a race-based wealth test for immigrants.

The public charge rule is just one part of a larger effort on behalf of the Trump Administration to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. Last October, the White House issued a proclamation to allow the denial of green card and visa applications based on whether potential immigrants could cover their own health insurance and medical costs. That case, too, is in court.

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