Public Charge: New Barrier for Legal Immigrants

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For Immediate Release:
Josie Bacallao
Hispanic Unity of Florida
954-683-2028 (Mobile)
954-342-0298 (Direct Line)

Public Charge: Legal Immigrants’ Latest Barrier to Path to Citizenship

Ft. Lauderdale—August 15, 2019 – Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the final “public charge” rule that will take effect in 60 days or as of October 15, 2019.  Applications submitted prior to October 15, will not be subject to the new rule.

This rule will make it harder for low-income families or individuals to complete the green card application process, thereby restricting access to the nation’s legal immigration system.

This is a departure from the current DHS policy, in place for decades, which has allowed immigrant families with legal status to seek health care, nutrition and housing assistance without harming their immigration cases.

“We believe that the progress of our state and country will depend on the continued gains of the immigrant and Latino communities, and, to that end, we should support policies that recognize immigrants’ contributions.  This new rule rejects these contributions by dramatically shifting the treatment of legal immigrants and their families. It will inflict significant harm to Florida’s communities”, said Josie Bacallao, President/CEO of Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc. (HUF).

In Florida, 4.8 million Latinos comprise nearly 25% of the state’s population.  As is the case throughout the country, the immigrant and Latino community’s size, work ethic, and resilience are a critical engine of Florida’s economy.

This new rule will impact nearly 2.1 million Floridians of those, 609,000 children most of whom are U.S. citizens.

In Broward County, 281,000 residents or 15% of its population could potentially be impacted by this new rule.  Miami-Dade County may have as many as 693,000 individuals impacted by the rule or an estimated 26% of the county’s population.[1]

This new rule will have a detrimental impact on our legal immigration system by undercutting one of its essential cornerstones:  family unity.  In FY 2017, DHS reported that 127,609 individuals became lawful permanent residents in Florida.[i]  Once this rule is promulgated, millions of families, including those of mixed immigration status living within the U.S., would find it significantly more difficult to apply for and obtain lawful permanent residence.  And, in the end, U.S. citizen children could be the ones impacted the most by this policy that undercuts family unity.

We believe that this rule will contribute to thousands of people here in Florida, including children, losing access to health care and healthy food, while increasing the number of individuals living in poverty.

In Florida, approximately 529,000 Latino households participate in the SNAP program according to the most recent government data.[ii]  Food insecurity, or being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food, is already a significant issue affecting Latino communities. In 2016, 18.5% of Latino-headed households reported being food insecure compared to 12.3% of all households. Hunger and food insecurity especially impact Latino children, as 22% of Latino children live in households struggling to avoid hunger, compared to 16.5% of all households with children.[iii]

Loss of SNAP benefits would cause more Latinos, including children, to experience poverty and suffer from hunger and malnutrition.

Media leaks over the past two years on the rule change have already had a chilling effect on the immigrant community. A recently published brief by the Urban Institute called, How Uncertainty Surrounding the “Public Charge” Rule Leads to Hardship for Immigrant Families documents what Hispanic Unity of Florida, Inc. (HUF) and other service providers have already heard from immigrants.

Families with legal status, and eligible for benefits, have been shunning services and refusing to apply for services including benefits which will not be affected such as school lunches in anticipation of this new rule.

Also, many immigrant families who will not be affected by the new rule, also are denying their families much needed services for fear that their immigration status will be hurt.

Numerous lawsuits are expected to be filed by legal and immigrant-serving organizations in opposition to this new rule. Also, members of Congress have already proposed new legislation, H.R. 3222, the No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act, which is intended to neutralize this new rule.

Immigrants should seek out information on the public charge rule prior to making decisions on benefits.

Over the course of the next few months, HUF will launch the Public Charge/Know Your Rights campaign to help the immigrant community make informed decisions.  We will unpack the rule: what it means, who will be impacted and who will not be affected, which benefits will be considered and which will be excluded.

Above all, families should know the following:

  • Use of public benefits alone will not make you a public charge.
  • The public charge test is about what will happen in the future – not what happened in the past. The proposed rule is not retroactive. The rule will consider benefits used after October 15, 2019.
  • The public charge test does NOT consider benefits used by family members. (Unless they also are applying for a green card.)
  • The public charge test does not apply to every immigrant.
  • Many across the country are fighting – including filing lawsuits – to ensure this rule does not take effect.

Follow HUF’s Public Charge/Know Your Rights Campaign on Twitter.

About Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF):

Hispanic Unity of Florida (HUF) is a non-profit founded 37 years ago by community leaders to ease the acculturation transition for newcomers from other nations. Today, HUF provides assistance through 12 programs and 30+ services in four languages to South Florida’s diverse community. HUF, an UnidosUS Affiliate, is one of South Florida’s largest agencies dedicated to the immigrant population, providing them with the tools they need to build a new life. In 2018, the agency served more than 15,000 children and families. HUF offers assistance at four main office locations and provides extended services at 50+ outreach locations—including citizenship services at libraries, free tax preparation at mobile sites, and education services at public schools, among others.

HUF’s Mission is:

Empowering immigrants and others to become self-sufficient, productive and civically engaged. For more information visit: or call 954-964-8884, ext. 216

Thank you to Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) for their ongoing analysis and support on this important “interior” immigration topic, and to Unidos US for their commitment to Latino families. 

# # #

[1] PIF’s 2018_FLpif estimates of “potentially chilled” families with at least one non-citizen family member and under 250% of the federal government poverty.
[i] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “The 2017 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.” DHS Office of Immigration Statistics, August 14, 2018.
[ii] Lauffer, Sarah. “Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2016.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, November 2017.
[iii] Alisha Coleman-Jensen et al., Food Security in the United States in 2016, Statistical Supplement. Table S-2. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC, 2017.


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