Proposed federal rule would impact noncitizens, immigrants

A forum at Mondale Hall last week sought to inform students and others on the rule’s effects.

by Michelle Griffith

A recent forum at Mondale Hall addressed a proposed federal rule that could make it harder for many noncitizens, immigrants and some U.S. citizens to enter or reside in the United States.

In October, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would broaden how the federal government determines who is considered a “public charge,” which is currently defined as a noncitizen primarily dependent on cash assistance. People determined to be a public charge may be deported or barred from entering the country.

On Thursday, the University of Minnesota’s Immigration Response Team and James H. Binger Center for New Americans co-hosted a public forum to inform students, community members and faculty about the proposed change and the effects it could have on students and the greater community. 

“There are immigrants in tons of different immigration statuses and from families that have immigrant backgrounds at the University, so I think undoubtedly [the proposed rule] will have an effect on some students,” said Marissa Hill-Dongre, director of the University’s Immigration Response Team.

The proposal has the potential to unfavorably affect nearly 50 percent of noncitizens, according to an analysis generated by the University’s Immigration and Human Rights Clinic.

The proposed rule states that “DHS seeks to better ensure that aliens subject to the public charge inadmissibility ground are self-sufficient [and] do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities, as well as the resources of family members, sponsors, and private organizations.” 

Immigration officers currently use a test to determine if a person is a public charge based on their age, health, family status, finances and education and skills.

The proposed policy change would broaden the financial status portion of the test and look at if people have the potential or are using public benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps and subsidized housing in public charge determinations. Right now, immigration officers do not look at whether a person is dependent on these government programs.

The earliest the policy could be implemented is spring 2019.

“I think this could really impact any family who at any point during their lives relied someway on public benefits,” Hill-Dongre said. 

Community impact

The University’s Twin Cities campus had over 6,000 international students enrolled in fall 2017, according to an annual International Students and Scholars report.  These students were enrolled under different visa statuses, and under the proposed rule, students could be affected if they or their family relies or has relied on public benefits. 

“More than 10 million noncitizens … reside in benefit-receiving families,” the IHRC report stated. “These individuals will be vulnerable to deportation under the proposed rule.” 

The proposal is currently accepting public comments and has over 123,000 comments at the time of publication. During the forum last week, attendees were encouraged and taught how to write meaningful public comments. 

“We got interested in this rule because it’s a proposal affecting the rights of noncitizens in ways that hasn’t garnered a whole lot of public attention,” said Steve Meili, a University law professor and director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic.

Some lawyers and people in public health attended the forum to learn more about how the proposed policy would affect their clients.

Attendee Lauren Mendez McConkey went to the session because some of the patients at the community health clinic where she works expressed concern about the proposal.

“We wanted to be in a better position to be able to influence the policy in a way that would most advocate for our patients,” Mendez McConkey said.