By Gloria J. Browne-Marshall
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall: For centuries, poor people have come to America. We’re going to discuss the public charge rule and U.S Supreme Court case of Wolf v Cook County, Illinois. With me is Alan Wernick, director of the CUNY Citizenship Now.
Alan Wernick: Thank you for having me. It’s an honor to be on with such an esteemed CUNY colleague as yourself.
Browne-Marshall: We want people to understand what it means to be a “public charge.” The New York Times has shown that there’s been over an 11% decrease in the number of people who are taking a legal path through immigration to become a part of this great country made up of immigrants. So, this public charge rule and other policies by the Trump administration are having a very negative effect on immigration.
Wernick: Whether a person could support themselves here in the United States has always been an issue of concern. Out of the 800,000 to a million people who get green cards every year, maybe 100, or less and those people qualify for those benefits. You’re receiving Medicaid, one year of Medicaid, out of the past three beginning, going forward, and that makes it very difficult, almost impossible, for you to get a green card. People who are not permanent residents already either don’t qualify for the benefit, or if they do qualify, they’re an exempt category. For instance, if you’re an asylee. Another example is if you are a pregnant woman. You can get prenatal care. But the regulation says prenatal care will not be counted Medicaid.
Browne-Marshall: I’m reading from the actual Supreme Court opinion. This provision instructs immigration officers to consider, at a minimum, a person’s age, health, family status assets, resources, and financial status and education and skills in determining admissibility or inadmissibility on this public charge basis. The immigration and nationalization agencies are looking at these criteria in order to determine if this person may become a public charge?
Wernick: There are other factors that are not as heavily weighted like your age. Debt has never been a consideration. If you don’t have private health insurance that’s going to be a negative factor. But subsidized insurance like subsidized Obamacare doesn’t count.
Browne-Marshall: This law is going to affect more people coming from non-European countries. And, people coming from countries that perhaps aren’t as wealthy as other countries?
Wernick: Well, it’s obviously targeting people of color because that you know they statistically have come from countries with more economic disadvantages. They’re seeking economic opportunity or the fleeing war or persecution. To put these kinds of burdens on these people mainly coming from poor nations, it’s not only unfair, it’s unjust. We need young workers. We need people in manufacturing, the service industry, and paying into Social Security and Medicare. The President’s Chief of Staff, in a private meeting, apparently said that we need more immigrants not less immigrants. The rules apply to all except, refugees. But it also applies to mainly family-based immigrants. The people coming in high-tech jobs, they’re going to have to fill out a form now that’s going to take them 10 to 12 hours, or their attorney 10 to 12 hours. In 1996, the new public charge rules went into place. Once you figured out how to address the rules, you could get your client a green card. Now it’s different.
Browne-Marshall: Last summer, then Acting Director of U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli revised the poem on our Statue of Liberty’s pedestal to say, quote, “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge” end quote.
Wernick: But they want to come here so that they can work. So, their children can have a life better than the life that they had back in their home country. The regulations are something that are promulgated and implemented by the Executive Branch. If there’s a different administration, it’s likely that these rules could be changed. Now if you have a green card you qualify for citizenship. All you have to do is pay for is the postage. The government is proposing to pretty much double filing fees. So, there’s no better time like the present to make your application.
Browne-Marshall: Thank you. We will soon turn to immigration and the corona virus.
Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is a writer, legal correspondent, author of “The Voting Rights War” and Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College (CUNY). She is a playwright and working on her debut novel of historical fiction. @gbrownemarshall. Listen to ‘Law of the Land’ podcast. Andres Estevez assisted in adapting this interview from “Law of the Land with Gloria J. Browne-Marshall” on WBAI 99.5FM, wbai.org.