By Perry and Alznauer, P.C.
Recent changes to U.S. immigration policy may exacerbate the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Specifically, the new DHS “public charge” regulation that took effect on February 24, 2020, which expands the number of immigrants who can be denied green cards based upon their “probability” of using certain forms of government assistance, has motivated many applicants to forego medical care. U.S. foreign nationals who lawfully used, or might lawfully use, Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), food stamps, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), or other public benefits, are now highly impacted negatively by this new policy.
The new “public charge” regulation, taking effect at the same time as the global COVID- 19 outbreak, may be putting many communities at risk. U.S. foreign nationals might be discouraged to seek healthcare benefits and some may choose not to seek help if they fall sick due to the coronavirus because they might fear having their immigration cases denied or even be placed in deportation proceedings.
As the coronavirus spreads, the Trump administration has also been increasing the resources it spends on immigration enforcement activities in sanctuary cities. Healthcare facilities may no longer be exempt from being randomly visited by Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE) thereby adding risk for immigrants of not being able to access healthcare when they need it the most.
Individuals seeking legal status in the United States need to frequent offices (USCIS, DHS, DOS, etc.) and immigration courts. Significantly, these offices have not yet implemented procedures as to how cases will be handled and heard amidst the outbreak. Immigrants, government workers and judges all face the risk of exposure to the virus as interviews and court appearances are not being currently routinely rescheduled or cancelled. Even if this occurs, the consequence would be substantial increases in backlogs which are already at record highs.
Experienced immigration attorneys can provide the best legal advice on how to navigate the intersection of these issues. The “public charge” rule is also very complex, adding 20 more pages to the green card application and a dozen revised forms including the affidavit of support (Form I-864), and three (3) new comprehensive forms such as I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency, I-945, Public Charge Bond, and I-356, Request for Cancellation of Public Charge Bond. Consulting an experienced attorney will result in a more informed understanding of if and when to seek lawful and necessary public benefit such as healthcare in case the urgent need arises.
Now, more than ever, it is recommended that anyone filing for adjustment of status, or any other immigration relief, seek the help and guidance of a highly qualified immigration attorney. Consultations can be conducted via confidential telephone consultations. Best business practices include e-mail or video chats to help safeguard health concerns in the face of widespread uncertainty and community spread of coronavirus.