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November 1, 2019

MassLive: Mass. congressional delegation urges Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to withdraw rule that would penalize immigrants for using benefits

Massachusetts’ congressional delegation is asking Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to take down a rule that would penalize immigrants for using certain public benefits, weeks after federal courts struck down a similar Department of Homeland Security rule.

Three federal judges on Oct. 11 issued nationwide temporary injunctions on DHS’ “public charge” rule, which would have made immigrants who have ever used food stamps, other public benefits or failed to meet a certain income threshold, ineligible for green cards. The State Department issued its own interim rule on Oct. 11, scheduled to take effect Oct. 15 like the DHS rule was.

The State Department, which oversees U.S. embassies and reviews green card applications worldwide, announced it would postpone implementing its “public charge” rule, but it published a 60-day notice of proposed information collection for the rule, suggesting it will move forward with the rule since the federal injunction only applies to DHS.

In a letter dated Oct. 31, the delegation of 11 lawmakers urged Pompeo to withdraw the rule.

“The ‘public charge’ rule has already produced a widespread chilling effect, precipitating disenrollment of immigrants and their children — including U.S. citizen children — from vital healthcare, nutritional assistance, and housing programs for which they are qualified,” the delegation of 11 lawmakers wrote in an Oct. 31 letter to Secretary. “The DOS rule is likely to have a similar chilling effect if implemented as many immigrants who process their visas abroad live in the United States and have U.S. citizen children.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

Federal courts in New York, Washington and Maryland issued nationwide preliminary injunctions on DHS’s “public charge” rule, while courts California and Illinois issued district-specific ones.

Massachusetts was one of 13 states that filed a lawsuit against the “public charge” rule in Washington. U.S. District Judge Rosanna Malouf Peterson said the plaintiffs made a strong case showing that the federal government overstepped its authority.

Peterson wrote that DHS had “not cited any statute, legislative history, or other resource that supports the interpretation that Congress has delegated to DHS the authority to expand the definition of who is inadmissible as a public charge or to define what benefits undermine, rather than to promote, the stated goal of achieving self-sufficiency.”

Under ‘public charge’ rule, thousands of eligible Massachusetts families might shy away from health, food programs

Many Massachusetts residents who will shy away from in public benefits are those who remain eligible for health and nutrition programs under the public charge rule, attorneys and health providers say.

The DHS rule would disqualify green card applicants who had used the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Section 8 housing and other programs. The rule also would penalize people who are older, have certain medical conditions and earn an income 125% below the federal poverty level. It wouldn’t apply to current green card holders living in the U.S.

The letter states that such a rule from the State Department would impose new income, age and health requirements on people seeking visas and other immigration petitions. As a result, lawmakers wrote, it would create a widespread chilling effect just like the DHS rule.

Lawmakers expressed their concerns and sent a list of questions for the State Department to answer, requesting a response by Nov. 14.