Biden administration works tirelessly to change the meaning of public charge

By Juan Calvillo

Changes are proposed to both current immigration laws in the form of the United States Citizenship Act of 2021, and public charge rules. Julie Mitchell, managing attorney at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), said the Trump administration made public charge much more confusing by changing the definition.

“There are lawsuits challenging the change in definition of public charge. And those lawsuits are still pending,” Mitchell said. She said the Biden administration is moving forward with an attempt to undo what the previous administration did to the definition of public charge. 

She said currently, despite these efforts, the public charge definition remains the way the Trump administration had defined it.

Courtney Powers, assistant professor of law in the Business Department at East Los Angeles College, said that public charge is hugely impactful to the community during the COVID-19 era. She said that when looking at public charge it was important to first understand the rules do not apply to all immigrants. These rules apply to undocumented immigrants who are trying to change or adjust their status in the US. When that happens their applications are reviewed for use of public charge.

“The government must review whether that person is likely to become a “public charge.” In other words, are they likely to become dependent on certain government benefits in the future?” Powers said.

She said during the Trump administration, the rule was changed to include additional programs that were now under the umbrella of what it meant to be part of public charge. Powers said that certain programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Cal-Fresh) and Medicaid.

“This had not been the case prior to the new rule. In effect, this rule broadens the government’s ability to deny applications based on “public charge” determinations,” Powers said. She said a concern with the rule is that immigrants may hear about the situation and not want to take a chance of accepting any benefits in California. The fear is that it would make things difficult for them in the future.

Powers said that there are ways to get health related help during this COVID-19 time. 

She said that individuals that are under 26 years of age can get medical insurance through Medi-Cal (California’s version of Medicaid) no matter their immigrations status. 

She also said that My Health LA was another option and information can be found on the website, . ELAC also has the Student Health Center that is working hand in hand with Via Care.

“There is a health center for ELAC students. Although our campus is closed, students can access services at other locations in the community,” Powers said. 

To access the Student Health Center use the following link.

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