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Supreme Court upholds expanded definition of “public charge”

| Mar 23, 2020 | Immigration |

Obtaining a green card is often the first step immigrants in Pennsylvania take to establish their life in the U.S. However, doing so may become more difficult for some due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling made earlier this year.

The changing definition of “public charge”

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court permitted the Trump administration to move forward with its expansion of the definition of “public charge.” Under this ruling, if an immigrant primarily depends on government benefits as their main source of income for more than one year within any three-year period, they could be deemed a public charge. This means that immigrants who fall under the new definition of public charge can be denied a Green Card.

Previously, “public charge” only applied to cash benefits. However, it now includes noncash benefits, including Supplemental Security Income, federal housing assistance, food stamps Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and most types of Medicaid benefits.

The decision was made in response to a lawsuit filed by several states and immigrant aid groups. A federal judge issued a nationwide injunction that blocked the enforcement of this expanded definition of public charge, on the grounds that Congress did not intend the time limit proposed by the government and that the test for determining whether an immigrant was a public charge was always based on cash benefits. This ruling from the Supreme Court overturned that decision.

Proponents of the public charge expansion say it will protect taxpayers and ensure that immigrants are financially able to support themselves. Opponents of the public charge expansion say that it will have a chilling effect on those who want to obtain a green card and it will stop immigrants from obtaining the financial assistance they need to pay for housing, food and medical care.

Seek help when changes to immigration law affect your rights

As this shows, the steps necessary to obtain legal permanent residency can always change and in some ways can become more complex. Those who are afraid this new ruling will keep them from getting a green card may want to seek the assistance of an attorney who is compassionate, skilled and will fight for their rights. Immigration issues, including obtaining a green card, are sensitive topics as they impact an immigrant’s ability to live with their family in the U.S. However, with the right help immigrants in Pennsylvania can pursue a green card that will allow them to legally remain in the U.S.