CLASP Responds to Visas: Ineligibility Based on Public Charge Grounds; DOS Docket No. DOS-2021-0034

By Juliana Zhou and Elizabeth Lower-Basch 

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 in this comment, there is extensive evidence that the 2019 public charge rules 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 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DOS have both stopped applying the 2019 rule. Therefore, it is essential that the DOS adopt 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. The regulatory text that was in place prior to 2019 meets this standard.