Hawaii Senator Joins Effort To Block 'Public Charge' Rule Changes

Sep 18, 2019

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono is joining efforts to prevent changes to an immigration guideline. The amendments would make it harder for low-income immigrants to get green cards or temporary visas. 

The Trump Administration last month published the changes to what’s called the public charge rule.

A public charge is anyone who will likely receive a government benefit – such as housing or food assistance. This is based on questions that immigrants are asked covering topics like age, health, income, and education. Anyone determined to be a public charge could face deportation or denial of admission into the U.S.

The administration’s guideline changes would expand the definition of who is a public charge – and make it more difficult for immigrants to live in the country.

One of the more significant changes would label anyone earning less than $64,000 a year a public charge.

The administration argues the changes would promote self-sufficiency and personal responsibility among immigrants. The amendments would not apply to anyone already holding a green card or visa.

“It’s really a way, using kind of an obscure part of the immigration laws, to strike fear into hearts of immigrants – many of whom are already here," said Sonya Schwartz, senior policy attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. "It does not apply to people who are trying to become naturalized citizens, but people think that it does. And the footprint of this rule, in theory it’s ‘chilling effect,’ is far more damaging than the actual specifics of the rule.”

Hirono introduced a bill Tuesday prohibiting the use of federal funds to administer the changes – which would in effect block them from being implemented. The bill was co-sponsored by 26 other Democratic senators.

A similar bill was introduced in the House in June by Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat. That measure now has 97 co-sponsors.

The amendments to the public charge rule are scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15.