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Politics & Government

Public Charge Forum Held in Sunset Park to Inform Immigrants of Law and Their Rights

In an effort to set the record straight on a complicated subject, on Tues., Nov. 27, local elected officials mounted a town hall entitled Public Charge: A New threat to Immigrant Families in Sunset Park to help educate residents on the current law, as well as potential changes that could impact immigrants’ rights.

Held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 558 59th Street, the event was sponsored by Councilmember Carlos Menchaca and Congressmember Nydia Velazquez.

Dozens of attendees, predominantly Asians and Hispanics, gathered to educate themselves on the subject, which refers to use of public services by immigrants and its impact on their ability to get a green card or certain types of visas, based on their dependency on specific government programs.

Menchaca, who was slated to be at the event, didn’t attend the forum due to illness, but other officials provided salient information, including Manager of Outreach for Public Benefits at the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) Makdyanet Cedeno, Senior Advisor to Menchaca Cesar Vargas, immigration attorney Damian Vargas, representatives of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, and more.

Cedeno, who stressed that no rules have changed as of yet, shed some light on policies and rights of immigrants.

“Public charge is not connected to benefit eligibility. Nothing is changing about who is eligible for which benefits,” she said. “The (test) applies when you’re trying to come in through a visa or you’re here and you’re trying to adjust status. The government looks at a host of things, like your health, age, family status, assets, and education. They look at the whole picture and decide, would this person in the future become a public charge? This is long existing. This is what it is right now. This is the test that people go through.”

She added that a certain groups of folks that are certain categories that don’t have to worry about the public charge status and won’t have to worry about it in the future, including “refugees, victims of heinous crimes and children who have been left abandoned.

“The public charge test does not apply to them,” Cedeno stressed. “This proposed rule wouldn’t have any hindrance on that.”

However, she said, while, “Right now, the only benefit programs that are part of the public charge test are cash assistance, like TANF or SSI, and institutionalized long-term care, like a nursing home, through Medicaid,” the federal government is proposing to adding four categories of benefit “to flag someone that’s public charge in addition to the two mentioned earlier.

“They want to add Medicaid, but not emergency Medicaid, housing benefits, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicare part D,” Cedeno said.

Cesar Vargas dispelled several myths regarding public charge, including that all government benefits like public schools or police assistance would prevent you from getting a green card.

“Only specific benefits that are outlined in the proposed rule are going to be those qualifying government benefits that could prevent you from getting a green card or a visa,” he said, referencing Cedeno’s information. “The other myth is if my U.S. citizen child receives benefits, I am going to be disqualified from getting a green card. That’s false.”

He added that the public charge rule only applies to a limited number of immigrants, especially people trying to obtain a visa or trying to get a green card now. “Another myth is the new public charge rule is already in effect,” he said. “That is false. It’s still a proposal that the federal government must finalize in order to implement fully. Nothing has changed.”

According to the speakers, those who wish to comment have until Mon., Dec. 10 to submit comments, questions and concerns. Each time the federal government proposes a change in the law, it opens a comment period.

“After Dec. 10, the government is going to have to show proof that they’ve read all your comments,” said Cesar Vargas. “We were up to 84,000 comments. Our goal is 100,000 and it seems we are going to surpass that. We need to show the federal government that they need to hear our community members.”

According to the NYIC, it could take up to five months for government officials to go through the comments, show they read them and provide evidence.

Another important tidbit NYIC gave to attendees is that the laws would not be retroactive.

“Whatever goes into effect, you can’t be penalized for what you did before,” said Cedeno. “If you’re not recertifying your food stamps or benefits, you’re doing yourself a disservice because regardless of whatever changes go into effect, this will not be retroactive.”

A video of Velazquez discussing the rule was shown to attendees. Calling the Trump administration’s proposal, “An immoral attempt to intimidate our immigrant communities,” she told attendees, “The plan would mean that more immigrants are classified as being dependent on federal assistance, making it harder for many immigrants to secure a green card.”

She added, “Some organizations have estimated that 7.9 million U.S. children with immigrant parents will be at risk of losing access to services like health insurance, food stamps, housing assistance. That is unacceptable and wrong.”

Those interested in leaving a comment can visit nyc.gov/PublicCharge.

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