DHS Docket No. USCIS-2021-0013; Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility

By Renato Rocha and Elizabeth Lower-Basch

At CLASP, we believe that our immigration laws should not discourage immigrants and their family members from seeking physical and mental health care, nutrition, or housing benefits for which they are eligible. As discussed in more detail below, there is extensive evidence that the 2019 public charge rule generated extensive fear and confusion that caused immigrant families to avoid interacting with the government and forgo needed public benefits for which they are eligible — even for family members who are citizens or who are not subject to a public charge test for naturalization. This “chilling effect” would have been damaging under any circumstances, but was particularly devastating when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in the United States, with many immigrants afraid to seek health care or other supports. Recent evidence confirms that the chilling effect is still impacting many immigrant communities, even though USCIS stopped applying the 2019 rule in early 2021. Therefore, it is essential that DHS crafts a public charge policy that sets clear parameters so that immigrants, their families, service providers, and adjudicators can understand and communicate how a public charge assessment will be determined in order to minimize the chilling effect.