South Asian communities in US oppose proposed change in public charge definition

Washington, USA Published: Oct 13, 2018, 02:17 PM(IST)

August 23: Escalation Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

According to a recent Pew Research Centre study, one in four immigrants in the US from Bangladesh and Nepal and one in three immigrants from Bhutan live in poverty. 

South Asian communities in the US have opposed the Trump administration's proposal to change the definition of public charge, claiming that it will have a detrimental impact on new legal immigrants, particularly those from South Asia.

Under the proposal moved by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the definition of "public charge" would include an immigrant "who receives one or more public benefits" and whether the person is likely to receive public benefits at any time in the future.

The proposed change in the definition is part of the draft "public charge" rule, under which immigrants may be denied green card if they have received government benefits in the past or are likely to receive one in the future. 

The DHS has published the draft rule in federal register early this week and has sought comments from all stakeholders within a period of 60 days. 

The definition also expands the types of benefits that a public charge may receive, including those that are temporary in nature. 

The proposed public charge rule came in the wake of the US President Donald Trump's plan to not give Green Cards or legal permanent residency to those immigrants who have taken benefits from the government in the past or are likely to take one in the future.

According to a recent Pew Research Centre study, one in four immigrants in the US from Bangladesh and Nepal and one in three immigrants from Bhutan live in poverty. 

The new rule would put all these individuals at great risk, observers said. 

The South Asian Bar Association (SABA) said Friday that the changes have been proposed with the intention of deterring new immigrants and reinterpreting a fundamental concept in the immigration law. 

"This proposal is another example of this administration's attempt to subvert legal immigration in America...Immigrants are being punished for being too young, too old, too poor or not able-bodied. They are being told, yet again, that they are unwelcome and unwanted," SABA president Sundeep Sandhu said.

SABA said the proposed rule if implemented, would make immigration to the US-based predominately on one's wealth rather than one's overall potential contribution to the community.

According to a 2018 Migration Policy Institute Report, 61 per cent Bangladeshi non-citizen immigrant families, 48 per cent non-citizen Pakistani families and 11 per cent non-citizen Indian families receive public benefits in the US. 

"The proposed rule punishes immigrants who access public benefits they are entitled to," said Desis for Progress, another South Asian group in the US.

The group said the proposed policy change will have a major impact on South Asian immigrant communities, as over 10 per cent of all green card applicants are from South Asia.

"Some South Asian visa holders who are in the US on non-immigrant visas, like the H1-B programme, could be impacted. Some communities like the Bangladeshis and the Nepalis are more likely to be targeted for green card denials based on their income," the Desis for Progress said.

SAALT, another South Asian community organisation, said the proposed rule would deny permanent resident status to lower-income immigrants who use government services such as nutrition programmes and housing assistance. 

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