February 3, 2021 / Modified feb 3, 2021 12:02 p.m.

Rights advocates applaud Biden's planned review of public charge rule

The 2019 change made it harder for immigrants to obtain visas and green cards if they used, or might use, government assistance

Imago dei pantry window Before the COVID-19 pandemic, families could visit the food pantry to obtain essential groceries free of charge.
Courtesy of Imago Dei Middle School

President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders focused immigration yesterday. Rights advocates are applauding one order that called for a review of the Trump administration’s public charge rule.

The Trump administration enacted the regulation in 2019 to deny green cards and visas to immigrants who use, or might use, government aid like food stamps and housing assistance.

Angie Rogers is the president of the Arizona Food Bank Network, her network was part of a coalition who co-signed a letter urging Biden to repeal the rule ahead of the inauguration. She said her facility saw a 25% decline in legal permanent residents seeking services after the rule took hold.

"We really believe that that is largely due to a fear of a confusion about what the rule does at what impact it might have on their citizenship in the future."

She said public charge and other changes like it have stirred fear among immigrant communities, even those with legal status, at a time when services like food assistance were most needed.

"We have heard stories from individuals who said I’m just very concerned about having to make the choice between whether or not I can have a path to citizenship or being able to feed my family, and so at this time I’m choosing not to apply for benefits," she said.

Rogers said that lack of trust is especially dangerous now, as COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the county and health officials try to urge as many people as possible to get immunized. A recent report by FWD.us showed more than 5 million undocumented people are essential workers. Those communities have already been hit with the virus, and health officials worry they could be harder to reach with vaccine resources.

On his first day in office, Biden sent an immigration bill to Congress that outlined a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S., but it has yet to advance.

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