In late January, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announced that the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) public charge rule would go into effect while legal challenges are heard in lower courts.
Most of ReWA clients are refugees and asylees and therefore exempt from the public charge rule. However, the steady stream of anti-immigrant policies from the Trump Administration have spread fear and uncertainty.
Their concern over being labeled a ‘public charge’ is reportedly causing parents to drop food or health care benefits for fear it would impact Green Card or citizenship applications for themselves or family members. For example, ReWA’s Basic Food program which provides food stamps for refugees who can then enroll in state-funded job training programs, has seen clients drop out. Even though the ‘public charge’ rule does not apply to refugees, case managers say many clients are afraid to take the risk.
A case manager reported, “I had a refugee client from Sudan who became homeless for a time. She needed support and job training to find a job in Seattle. But after the public charge ruling, she canceled her appointment to apply for job training because it came with food stamps.”
What can be done to help?
“Fear is the real danger here. Facts are our best defense. We tell our clients, ‘Talk to your lawyer and know the facts of your case before making any decision about applying for benefits.’
She went on to say, “Of course, we will help them find work, unofficially. One the one hand, our programs are funded by government grants and contracts, so future funding relies on enrollment numbers. But at the end of the day, we are in the business to help people—so that is what we will do.”