Immigration advocates in Chicago celebrate end of Trump era changes to public charge rule

The rule would have allowed officials to deny immigrants permanent residency — more commonly known as a green card — if the person used public benefits such as food stamps, public housing and some forms of Medicaid.

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Raquel Lopez, a member of Enlace Chicago, talks Wednesday, March 10, 2021, about the impact of the Trump-era public charge rule.

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Immigration advocates in Chicago are declaring victory following a move from President Biden’s administration that will end the legal battle over the controversial public charge rule.

The rule, which had been introduced under former President Donald Trump’s administration, would have allowed officials to deny immigrants permanent residency, more commonly known as a green card, if the person used public benefits such as food stamps, public housing and some forms of Medicaid. The rule was supposed to go into effect in October 2019, but it was delayed to February 2020 because of legal challenges, including one from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

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On Tuesday, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, announced the government would no longer defend the public charge rule in court, saying it wasn’t in the public interest to move forward with litigation.

“Today many of our immigrant families can live and breathe more easily not just here in Illinois but across the country,” said Luvia Quiñones, the health policy director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

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Militza Pagán, an attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, said Tuesday’s announcement from President Joe Biden’s administration means the Trump era changes to the public charge rule will end.

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Militza Pagán, an attorney with the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, said the decision announced Tuesday was key in ensuring the court cases are closed, and it means the public charge rule would return to how it was implemented prior to the Trump administration’s changes.

Under prior rules, the government considered a person a public charge if they received cash assistance or were institutionalized in long-term care paid for by the government, she said. The government will no longer consider use of other public benefits a public charge.

“During the COVID pandemic, we have seen first-hand how our health and safety is connected to our communities health and safety,” Pagán said. “Policies that discourage people from getting health care are not only morally wrong but dangerous for us all.”

Raquel Lopez, a member of Enlace Chicago, said she was eligible to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, but didn’t go through with the application because of the public charge rule. Enlace Chicago is a community organization based in Little Village.

Lopez, who has lived in Chicago for about 21 years, said she worried taking part in the program would hurt her immigration case down the road.

Inhe Choi, the executive director of the Chicago-based HANA Center, said she heard similar stories through the confusion over the public charge rule.

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Inhe Choi, the executive director of the Chicago-based HANA Center, said the public charge rule had caused confusion and fear in immigrant communities.

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The center, which provides services to the Korean and Asian American communities, got calls from a woman who was a naturalized citizen, but she was still hesitant to enroll in a program that could be considered a public benefit, Choi said. Another man, who was a green card holder, didn’t want to apply for Medicaid because he worried it would affect the immigration cases of relatives who lived with him.

“What we are really happy (about) is we are going to be able to end the confusion and fear this has caused, which actually started even before, like a whole year, when the news first surfaced,” Choi said.

The Biden administration is expected to do a full review of the existing public charge rule and will later issue recommendations on the future of the policy, Pagán said.

Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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