‘Repugnant To The American Dream’: Federal Judges Block Controversial Immigration Policy

“When I hear that they (immigration officials) don’t count the benefits of those who are dependents of you against you, I believe that’s incorrect,” says Daniel Rodriguez, an immigration and family attorney who spoke at the town hall at Encanto Elementary School in central Phoenix. (Photo by Madeline Ackley/Cronkite News)

By Madeline Ackley

PHOENIX – Changes in the “public charge” immigration policy were temporarily blocked by federal judges in three states on Friday, days before they were set to go into effect this week.

The proposed changes would have put immigrants entering the country and those seeking green cards under more scrutiny if they have used or were deemed likely to use public benefits, including food assistance programs, subsidized housing and Medicaid.

The policy has been controversial since a draft of the changes was leaked in 2017. Since then, immigration and social-service advocates have slammed the proposed changes, arguing they target low-income immigrants and intentionally sow fear and confusion within migrant communities.

Trump administration officials have defended the law, stating the policy is simply “enforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility,” as Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at a White House briefing in August.

A tweet by Cuccinelli on Friday indicated the administration isn’t giving up without a fight.

“An objective judiciary will see that this rule lies squarely within long-held existing law,” Cuccinelli’s tweet read. “Long-standing federal law requires aliens to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed.”

‘(U)nlawful, arbitrary and capricious’

Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York issued the temporary injunction Friday and called the changes to public charge, “unlawful, arbitrary and capricious.” Similar rulings were issued later in the day by judges in California and Washington state.

Daniels said the policy will “expose individuals to economic insecurity, health instability, denial of their path to citizenship, and potential deportation – none of which is the result of any conduct by those such injuries will affect.”

“The rule is simply a new agency policy of exclusion in search of a justification,” Daniels’s ruling said. “It is repugnant to the American Dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility.”

What is public charge?

Under the proposed changes, an immigrant might not be permitted entry to the U.S. or granted a green card if the individual “is likely at any time to become a public charge,” meaning they might rely on the government as their primary means of support.

According to the Customs and Immigration Services website, “age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education and skills” will be considered when determining whether someone is likely to be considered a public charge.

“No single factor, other than the lack of an affidavit of support, if required, will determine whether an individual is a public charge,” the site said.

The policy change would not affect undocumented immigrants, who are ineligible for public benefits. Instead, the changes apply to lawful residents attempting to adjust their immigration status, as well as immigrants attempting to legally enter the country.

Immigrants exempt from public charge include refugees, asylees, asylum applicants, holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), those with a protected status as victims of crime, human trafficking or domestic violence, and others with special statuses.

The public charge test isn’t new – it has been codified in immigration law for more than 100 years. In the past, the public charge test applied only to immigrants who used cash assistance from the government, or those who needed long-term institutional care.

But the new definition of what is considered a “public charge” would have expanded to include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Section 8 housing, public housing, Medicaid and Medicare Part D for the first time.

The rule change incensed immigrant-rights advocates across the country.

Related story ‘Public charge’: How changes to federal guidelines could affect immigrants who rely on benefits

In September, the social justice organization Living United for Change in Arizona, known as LUCHA, hosted an after-school town hall in the cafeteria of Encanto Elementary School in central Phoenix. A panel of immigration lawyers discussed misconceptions and potential implications of public-charge rule changes.

The attorneys spoke about the policy changes before a room of several dozen parents and community members. Some attorneys expressed concerns regarding the policy and their distrust of the Trump administration’s motives.

“Every time this administration passes a law that’s anti-immigrant, I try to think, ‘What’s the worst possible outcome of this?’” immigration attorney Daniel Rodriguez said. “When I hear that they don’t count the benefits of those who are dependents of you against you, I believe that’s incorrect.”

After the panel discussion, attorney Delia Salvatierra expressed concerns that the law would open vulnerable families up to food insecurity.

“(The policy) shouldn’t invite hunger into already low-income households,” Salvatierra said.

A ‘chilling effect’

Since the public first became aware of the changes in public charge in 2017, the draft policy went through several revisions. The latest corrections were made in early October, less than two weeks before the rules were set to go into effect.

Advocates argued the law is so complicated and confusing, it could have a chilling effect on immigrants accessing benefits to which they are legally entitled.

For example, they warn that noncitizen parents of U.S.-born children may be hesitant to obtain benefits for their children, such as food assistance, in the mistaken belief it will adversely affect their immigration case.

Before the rule was blocked, Ashley St. Thomas, the policy manager of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, was concerned food banks would see longer lines at food banks, as immigrant families shy away from benefits like SNAP, which replaced the federal Food Stamp Program in 2008

“We do know from data … that there’s been a drastic decline in legal permanent residents participating in SNAP,” St. Thomas said.

Through a public records request with the Arizona Department of Economic Security, St. Thomas said the Association of Arizona Food Banks found a nearly 50% decrease in lawful permanent residents in Arizona accessing SNAP benefits from September 2017 to April 2019.

Arizona Department of Economic Security data from September 2017.

Arizona Department of Economic Security data from April 2019.

Although SNAP participation across the board has dropped in part because of the relatively strong economy, the decline among citizens was not nearly as drastic as it was among noncitizens: about 13% in the same time frame.

St. Thomas said the association has requested updated statistics from DES but hasn’t heard back yet.

Since the policy was announced, the AAFB has been working to combat potential confusion, hosting town halls in Phoenix, Tucson and Yuma to help explain the policy changes to the community. The association has five member banks that serve all 15 Arizona counties.

“Our priority is to make sure people understand food banks are a safe place and that has no impact whatsoever on their legal status,” St. Thomas said before the injunction was announced.

So what happens now?

Immigration and social service advocates are celebrating the injunction, but are still wary the administration may attempt to go forward with the proposed updates to public charge.

St. Thomas said she considers the injunction “great news” and a victory for low-income immigrant families in Arizona.

Their focus, she said, is on making sure immigrant families understand they can still use their government benefits without penalty — for now.

The organization will proceed with a scheduled town hall in Tucson on Oct. 17 to explain the changes to the community.

“Certainly we’re spreading the word … hoping to reverse the chilling effect, if at all possible,” St. Thomas said.

Given the state’s large number of families with mixed immigration statuses, the public charge rule had the potential to have an outsized impact on Arizona.

Of citizen children with an immigrant parent, 87.4% reside in just 10 U.S. states, including Arizona, where 17.3% of citizen minors have at least one noncitizen parent.

According to statistics compiled by the Department of Agriculture, about 3.4 million children in the U.S. who use public benefits have an immigrant parent.

This early on, advocates said they are still wary about what the future might hold for public charge.

“We’re still trying to understand exactly what it means.” St. Thomas said. “Before we tell families that everything is safe, we want to be certain.”



  1. P.S. The reason most asylum-seekers are willing to endure the long march north is to escape something they can’t fix — control of their countries by the drug cartels and their gangs. Those gangs brand 9-year-olds with gang insignias to both recruit them and to intimidate them. Horrible situation in Central America, but it was US policies and support for wars that destabilized those countries, and it is US customers that keep the drug cartels in business. And it is US banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and tRump’s favorite, the Deutsche Bank “global laundromat,” that launder the drug money for the cartels. Let’s stop blaming the victims and do something about the causes.

  2. “…more scrutiny if they have used or were deemed likely to use public benefits.” How do you determine if someone is “more likely” to use benefits? And suppose they do not plan to and their kid becomes ill? Just let them die? How un-American is that?

    My mother’s parents came from Finland and Isa was a copper miner and steel worker who dared strike against greedy bosses, the lack of safety, and the company store. Finns were the 4th largest ethnic group out of 35 working at the Queen Mine in Bisbee when armed vigilantes — I mean “temporary deputies” — “deported” 1200 strikers to the New Mexico desert in July, 1917. Maybe the free ride in a hot cattle car was a “public benefit?”

    My father’s people came from Southern Italy and were treated as non-white lower class beings, on a par with African Americans who faced segregation and discrimination. With 12 children, I’d be amazed if my grandparents didn’t use what few public services were available — but a lot of work would never have gotten done, a lot of profits never made, if Luigi and his countrymen hadn’t come to do the hardest work at low pay with no benefits.

    Without immigrants, and slavery, the America we all cherish would not exist. And I note that tRump’s much-proclaimed promise to bring jobs back to America has pretty much fizzled out, and his New Nafta continues production elsewhere for sales in the US.

    • my grand parents came over LEGALLY and grandma was on a boat that picked up TITANIC survivors. Grampa worked in the coal mines of pennsylvania, NEVER did they get anything from the public dole. Life was hard then, but they had to survive on their own. Mom caught eels in a river to eat, they grew their own food, picked coal along the railway to cook, keep warm with. So albert you dont have anything on anyone. I am guessing that your grandparents also came LEGALLY. THAT is the difference, they got her legally, suffered the consequences and moved on with life. Grampa lost his hearing in the mines and died of black lung. The problem is that the left wants to let everyone in and make the gov’t pay for their keep. How do you know if they will be on the dole, its easy, do they have an education and can they contribute to the betterment of the country? Most cases the answer will be NO, just look locally, cant speak english, (grandparents learned as best they could, not fluent but could communicate), locally most cannot it seems and the ones here longest dont want to it also seems. So YES IMMIGRANTS added to our system but they did not come to get a handout, it was to improve their lives and many succeeded, also many didn’t. Slavery was instituted initially by the northeast folks who later claimed it was from the south, but they also would not let the south develope because they OWNED all the textile mills. The spanish and portugese brought slavery after they found the indiginous were not suitable for what they wanted. So point the finger there. also who made the slaves available? It was the blacks and arabs of the times. Greedy bosses well they still exist, many are known as stockholders and they expect profits from their investments. Nothing unusual there, also check the unions, they are also greedy and not working for the benefit of all so take your halo off as you were probably part of the problem in your time. BTW what exactly have your beloved democraps accomplished in the past 3 years other than get a lot of face time in their propaganda systems, better known as the MSM. Get on them to show what they have done if you can find anything.

    • Mr. Lannon I see that you continue to be disrespectful to people. To answer your first query: have you ever in your life actually seen an illegal border crosser? If not then I suggest that you could not possibly know what is meant by “more likely” to use benefits.

  3. And the American Dream is?
    Analogy; One lifeboat, packed with people, more people are trying to get on. The left side of the boat says to pick them up. So they do and shove the people on the right off the boat. They pick up some more people and start shoving some on the left off(they eat their own).
    Then they pick up some more and shove the first people they picked up off the boat. Eventually they shove the people on the left off and now the boat is filled with some of the people they picked up last and when the Left people clinging to the boat beg to be saved, they say sorry but there is no more room.
    Moral of the story, don’t bite off more than you can handle and Charity begins at Home.
    Something like that, American Dream belongs to American People, not people who are cowards to fight for their own.

  4. The dream should be for them to FIX their own countries IF they are so dissatisfied with it. But no they want and the left side idiots want to make the USA into a 4th world country like they are supposedly running from. How can they say they have pride or anything else when they run away. Just think if this country over 200 years ago the folks that stood up did the same thing! No, they want free handouts not hand ups. Have a bunch of kids possibly different parent on one side and wala you are given $$ to spend, med care, housing etc. If the leftists and these stupid judges want to give all away, I believe they are getting $$ for their positions, therefore they should open their OWN homes and WALLETs and share their own dream. The rest of us really dont care that much that I would DEPRIVE CITIZENS or FAMILY 1st. The laws say not to be a public BURDEN, but that is what they are mainly.

    • Well Hank actually they did – they left Europe etc. to come here in droves from all over the world and it’s not stopped – HOWEVER- there was a place called Ellis Island that stopped and returned many to their homes for many reasons – the difference now is ‘there is no Ellis Island to stop them, but the wall and laws would if they would allow them. New immigration laws, way overdue… but just let them in NYET!!!!

  5. Charity should start at home. Until the needs of citizens are fully funded do we really have the responsability or the funding to prop up the needs of non citizens?
    Perhaps in perfect world things would be differant, but outside of libtard, my cause is more important them your cause activists and pie in the sky liberal judges, the rest us are forced to live in the harsh world reality.

    The Oracle

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