Thursday, June 30, 2011

What does it mean to become a "Public Charge"?

From the US Code, our official federal law book:

Sec. 212. [8 U.S.C. 1182]

(a) Classes of Aliens Ineligible for Visas or Admission.-Except as otherwise provided in this Act, aliens who are inadmissible under the following paragraphs are ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States:

(4) Public charge.-

(A)  In general.-Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.

A public charge is someone who must rely on the government to take care of them.  That clause has been around for 100 years, but our social programs have not.  In 1890 there wasn’t a state welfare office or food stamps or a home insulation program. 

The safety net back then consisted of your neighbors, fellow immigrants from your home country, relatives or your church.  You either made it or you went home.

Now there are all sorts of programs designed to take care of the needy.

But guess what?  In the infinite wisdom of Washington they have excluded many of the entitlement programs, declaring that an immigrant can use these taxpayer-funded plans and still not violate the “public charge” clause.

In other words, help yourself to the largesse of the United States and there is no penalty. 

Now, I understand that someone stuck here in an emergency ought to be taken care of.  A medical emergency or food for a few days is understandable.  But such assistance should be short-term, and the burden should be shifted quickly to your embassy.  (And we ought to at least BILL the embassy for your benefits received.)

But it doesn’t work that way.  Here is a list of benefits you can receive on an on-going basis and still qualify for a green card, amnesty, a visa, a visa renewal…even citizenship:
  • Medicaid and other health insurance and health services (including public assistance for immunizations and for testing and treatment of symptoms of communicable diseases; use of health clinics, short-term rehabilitation services, and emergency medical services) other than support for long-term institutional care
  • Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • Nutrition programs, including Food Stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program, and other supplementary and emergency food assistance programs
  • Housing benefits
  • Child care services
  • Energy assistance, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
  • Emergency disaster relief
  • Foster care and adoption assistance
  • Educational assistance (such as attending public school), including benefits under the Head Start Act and aid for elementary, secondary, or higher education
  • Job training programs
  • In-kind, community-based programs, services, or assistance (such as soup kitchens, crisis counseling and intervention, and short-term shelter)
  • State and local programs that are similar to the federal programs listed above are also generally not considered for public charge purposes.

The rule seems to be that you can't hand an immigrant cash (unless it is TANF cash).

And we’ve got some do-gooder organizations like ICIRR (which receives government grants to operate) and Centro de Informacion that teach immigrants how to use the system.

Below are a few snippets from the Centro website, encouraging immigrants to use public benefits.

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