January 29, 2020

UPDATE Friday Jan. 31: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced it will apply the Final Rule to applications and petitions submitted on or after February 24, 2020. Learn More

The U.S. Supreme Court this week set aside a preliminary injunction that had kept the Trump Administration from screening out some immigrants who receive public health and social services. The Public Charge rule makes low-income immigrants potentially ineligible for permanent residency or citizenship if they use some public services such as food stamps, Social Security benefits or Medicaid for people who are over 21.

The Administration finalized the rule last August. Oregon and more than a dozen other states filed lawsuits to stop the changes. While the outcome of those suits are still undecided, the ruling means the policy can immediately go into effect in Oregon and every state except Illinois, which is covered by a separate injunction. 

Public Charge is an assessment made by immigration officials on whether people entering the country or seeking a visa or green card are likely to rely on public benefits in the future. Historically, the rule only weighed two kinds of public assistance — cash assistance and long-term care.

In 2018, the Trump administration proposed expanding the Public Charge rule to include health, housing and food benefits. Multnomah County’s Board of Commissioners was among thousands of government bodies, state agencies, nonprofits and community groups to oppose those changes. The Supreme Court decision means the final rule can take effect immediately.

Multnomah County staff help clients access a number of benefits now subject to that rule, including:

  • Medicaid

  • the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • Housing assistance including public housing, Section 8 vouchers and rental assistance

Chair Deborah Kafoury is asking staff across all County departments to spread this message: Multnomah County will continue to welcome all people who need services, without regard to race, origin, immigration status, or ability to pay for services.

"Multnomah County is committed to being a safe harbor for our neighbors who rely on County services,” she said. “While the federal administration spreads fear, Multnomah County will choose compassion and openness. Everyone is welcome here."

Many are exempt

Many immigrants are not subject to the rule, including refugees and asylees, naturalized citizens, and people who already have green cards and are applying for citizenship. The use of public benefits alone will not determine whether a person would be denied entry or a green card. And even for those who used housing, health and food benefits, only benefits used after the rule goes into effect will be considered in immigration determinations.

There are also many programs unaffected by the rule change, including:

  • Medicaid for children under 21 and pregnant women (including 60 days after giving birth)

  • The Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

  • Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental nutrition program

  • Special education services covered by Medicaid and funded by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

  • Health care services based in schools

  • Oregon’s Cover All Kids Program

  • Most services offered by Oregon’s Reproductive Health Program

Chilling Effect 

County leaders are asking social and health providers to recognize concerns their clients might have about seeking out services. As soon as the change was proposed in 2018 social and health services providers across the County reported clients dropping out of programs and missing appointments even in programs and among immigrant residents who would not be affected by the change.

Department leadership hopes immigrant residents will trust that any resident, regardless of immigration status, insurance coverage or ability to pay, is steadfastly welcome to receiving needed services.

“This is a scary time for some of our neighbors. An uncertain time. But we at the Multnomah County Health Department are here to support your health and wellbeing,” said Health Department Director Patricia Charles-Heathers. “Please don’t let fear keep you from getting the care you and your family need.”

Peggy Brey, director of the Department of County Human Services, urges staff to be conscious of clients who might be impacted by the rule. The Human Services department supports families seeking housing and nutritional programs.

“The Department of County Human Services assists and cares for all of our community members. We encourage those who may be impacted by this rule change to consult with an immigration attorney to see how this rule change could affect them,” Brey said.

Staff should never give clients immigration legal advice, and should direct them to consult an immigration attorney or call Oregon’s Public Benefits Hotline at 800-520-5292.

More on Public Charge

  • Oregon Immigration Resource: A network of nonprofits and legal firms that provide information and workshops to families and agencies, working in partnership with the Oregon Law Center to create materials in multiple languages.

  • Protecting Immigrant Families: A partnership between the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Immigration Law Center. Sign up for news alerts and webinars, download fact sheets in English and Spanish.

Immigration Legal Resources

  • AILA Oregon: The Oregon Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association is a network of licensed attorneys with an understanding of the complexities of immigration law.

  • ICS: Immigration Counseling Services is a nonprofit law firm offering lower-cost immigration legal services and education.

  • Catholic Charities of Oregon: This nonprofit's Immigration Legal Services office offers low-cost immigration representation to low-income immigrant and refugee families, and coordinates workshops across the state.

  • Immigrant Law Group: This Portland law firm hosts a resource page and volunteers at workshops.