'Public charge' rule takes effect; advocates say it creates fear in immigrant community

Kim Glovas
February 24, 2020 - 4:13 pm

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — An old but seldom enforced federal immigration policy called the "public charge" rule goes into effect Monday. Advocates want to stop fearmongering by the government toward the most vulnerable of the immigrant population. 

Amy Eusebio with the Philadelphia Office of Immigrant Affairs says although the federal public charge rule went into effect Monday, it has been causing confusion for about two years.

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"It's intentionally confusing, and so the biggest fear from the community in general is folks will choose to disenroll from services for which they are eligible, and that might actually not have any impact on their ability to gain a pathway to citizenship in this country," Eusebio explained. 

Eusebio says the rule is being used to weed out low-income immigrants. 

"The federal government has intentionally expanded the definition of who could potentially become mostly dependent and reliant on the federal government to survive and thrive. So what we really think is it's anti-poor people," she said. 

Maripat Pileggi of Community Legal Services says it's scaring refugees, asylum seekers and others who are here legally. 

"The public charge rule is incredibly complex and it's very scary for a lot of immigrant families in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Scary because it threatens to keep families apart because they're not rich enough," Pileggi said. 

However, Pileggi says the rule only applies to a narrow demographic, and Medicaid, nutrition benefits and housing vouchers are still available. 

"Almost everyone has no reason to fear. Pretty much everyone who is eligible for those benefits can safely receive them," she said. 

Anyone who wants more information on the public charge can get it from the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition tool kit here. Eusebio urges anyone who checks out the tool kit to spread the word to families, friends and their communities. 

Eusebio also says if you need legal assistance, go to a reputable attorney or Community Legal Services for help.