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Statement opposing public rule changes impacting immigrants

Dec 3, 2018 : Articles

On September 22, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced a proposed rule that would make changes to “public charge” policies. Under longstanding policy, the federal government can deny an individual entry into the U.S. or adjustment to legal permanent resident (LPR) status (i.e., a green card) if he or she is determined likely to become a public charge. Under the proposed rule, officials would newly consider use of certain previously excluded programs, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program, and several housing programs, in public charge determinations.

Literacy Pittsburgh has submitted the following statement in opposition of this change to the Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security

Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest adult basic education provider in Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Each year we help nearly 5,000 adults improve their lives by attaining literacy, math, English and job skills.  Nearly half of our students are immigrants and refugees who have located in our area to build better lives for themselves and to become productive members of our society.   Our experience gained over our 36-year history leads us to write in opposition to the proposed changes to public policies regarding the public charge.  The proposed regulation changes create uncertainty and confusion, and impose unnecessary costs on governments, educational institutions, and service providers. Most importantly, the changes undermine the ability for immigrants to become self-sufficient.

The rule change moves from a clearly established standard with objective, observable criteria to a highly complex, subjective and multi-faceted test.  It moves from identifying those likely to be completely dependent on public benefits to identifying people who may have in the past, present or future use a public support program for any amount of time to better their lives.  The scope and scale of the new criteria is such that the rule change will create uncertainty and confusion about what a public charge really is, who is designated a public charge and why. 

The uncertainty created by the new rules will likely create numerous unintended consequences, including increased legal and infrastructure costs as governments, educational institutions, and service providers attend to new disclosure, intake and tracking requirements.   Our program will be no exception.  Our state will have to invest in changes to the data management system we use. We will have to invest in our information technology systems and processes as well as ongoing training of front-line staff on compliance matters.  These expenditures will diminish rather than increase our impact on improving the lives of the students we serve.

In fact, over-identifying public charges among the immigrant population is likely to undermine participation in the types of work, health and educational supports most likely to enable their self-sufficiency and naturalization in the years to come.  Fear of being identified as a public charge is already dampening enthusiasm for and participation in our programs that help immigrants improve English language and job skills.  All immigrant job seekers must be able to avail themselves of the programs that will help them become productive members of American life without fear that their participation will become a barrier to citizenship or permanent residency.   The proposed rule change on public charges works against our collective aspirations for immigrants to become productive and contributing members of our society.

Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of these comments and action in response to the concerns we raise.

Carey A. Harris
Chief Executive Officer
Literacy Pittsburgh

Literacy Pittsburgh (formerly Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council) helps create better lives through learning. Recognized as a national leader in adult and family literacy, Literacy Pittsburgh is the largest provider of adult basic education in Allegheny and Beaver Counties. Last year, Literacy Pittsburgh helped more than 4,500 individuals acquire reading, writing, math, English language, computer and workforce skills so they may reach their fullest potential in life and participate productively in their communities. Literacy Pittsburgh provides free, personalized instruction in workforce readiness, high school diploma test preparation, English as a second language, basic skills, and family literacy through one-to-one and small class instruction, along with referrals to other family support organizations. Founded in 1982, it serves local adults through numerous neighborhood locations and its Downtown Center.