Here at the American Civic Association, one of our main goals is to help immigrants obtain a permanent resident card. As of February 24th, 2020, however, this goal has been hindered by the new public charge rule. The new form, the I-944 Declaration of Self Sufficiency, is a way to determine the likelihood of an applicant becoming a public charge. A “public charge” is a person who uses public benefits such as certain cash assistance benefits or required government-funded, long term institutionalized health care. The new rule has expanded the grounds of inadmissibility to include federally-funded benefits like Medicaid, SNAP, and subsidized housing assistance. Therefore, if you are determined to be predicted to rely on the government to support yourself, you will be denied a green card. It also asks for the applicant to provide a range of other factors, such as their employment, health, education, and finances. Many sources have called the I-944 form a “health and wealth test” because it will favor high income, healthy applicants.
This form is lengthy, confusing, and intrusive to our clients. For example, it asks for extensive documentation about their educational background, language proficiency, health insurance, loans, and debts. This form is going to make it much more difficult for applicants to get a green card just because they may have been taught in a different language or have a car loan to pay off. It is ridiculous to ask someone to be completely self-sufficient. Most of the time if people want to come to America, it is to work and find other opportunities they wouldn’t have at home. With this form in place, however, it is not even allowing people the chance to take those opportunities because it demands they can support themselves on their own. The United States is idealized as the land of opportunity, but the new form is a physical representation of our unrealistic expectations of immigrants. It also shows how our nation projects its individualistic culture onto people who may come from a collectivist country, or a country whose citizens do not view relying on social services as a bad thing.
I had the opportunity to shadow Kira Davis, the immigration case manager, filling out the first I-944 with our clients. The couple had a very positive attitude and were confident in their ability to provide the necessary documentation. However, we do not expect this reaction and outcome for future clients, specifically those who may have trouble obtaining documentation or are not in good health. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, many immigrants worry that testing and hospitalization could count against them under the new public charge rule. Fortunately, USCIS announced that immigrants who “receive treatment for the coronavirus are exempt from the public charge, even if these services are provided by Medicaid.” However, this does not erase the stigma, fear, and in some cases, misinformation, in immigrant communities about healthcare as a whole.