In February 2020, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) implemented a new rule making it more difficult for eligible immigrants from middle- and lower-income families to gain lawful permanent residence in the U.S. That rule required applicant’s of all ages to complete an 18-page questionnaire (Form I-944), intended to show financial self sufficiency. As the law already required an Affidavit of Financial Support or evidence of employment from immigrant sponsors, many were skeptical as to the true purpose of this burdensome new requirement.
The I-944 included questions on the sponsored person’s education and employment history, his/her English language ability, his/her income, assets, liabilities, bankruptcies, credit history, and receipt of public benefits, such as federally funded Medicaid. Quite deliberately, this policy took aim at persons from poorer countries and from less-advantaged and less-affluent backgrounds. The policy punished eligible immigrants – close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents – who have faced financial hardship.
On Wednesday, July 29, 2020 a federal judge in New York issued an injunction stopping the Trump Administration from requiring such extensive financial information from applicant’s for permanent residence. With this ruling, the I-944 has been set aside indefinitely. It is unclear if the government will appeal this decision.
In addition to finding that the Public Charge rule was inconsistent with existing regulations and had a disproportionate impact on immigrants from countries predominately comprised of people of color, the judge cited the potentially devastating impact the rule would have on public health and safety during the COVID-19 global pandemic. More specifically, the judge found that the policy would deter immigrants pursuing lawful permanent residence from getting COVID-19 testing or seeking medical care out of fear that it would jeopardize their immigration status. Not only would this threaten the health of immigrant families in the U.S., but it would also severely diminish the ability to contain the virus, and protect the health of the public on a national level.
This is a major victory for immigrants and immigration advocacy groups, who believe the true purpose of the Public Charge Rule and the I-944 was to create a wealth test and to dissuade legally qualified, but less affluent immigrants, from seeking permanent residence in the U.S.