Media Statement - New Public Charge Rule Harms Immigrant Families and Puts Victims of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence at Risk

August 14, 2019 - The administration formally published a new rule that would place vulnerable immigrants in the untenable position of having to choose between accessing critical programs for their basic necessities and maintaining legal status in the United States. The rule, which takes effect on October 15, 2019, should it survive legal challenges, will especially harm survivors of gender-based violence who are subject to the rule. The new rule puts immigrant families, including children, at risk if they use public programs to  recover from, or escape abuse and meet basic needs like food, housing, and health care.

“This rule is yet another example of the Administration undermining efforts by immigrants to secure essential services. These services enable victims of domestic violence and sexual assault to escape from or overcome abuse,” said Grace Huang, Policy Director at the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. “As a result of this harmful rule, immigrant survivors and their families will likely forego critical food, health, and housing programs that they need to remain safe and healthy, even if they are not subject to a public charge test. We strongly oppose the public charge rule which deters survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault from accessing critical protections they need to escape or recover from abuse.”

Even before the rule was filed, advocates have seen the chilling effects of numerous anti-immigrant policies as more and more immigrants, including victims and their families, are foregoing critical services and living in a climate of fear (see national survey of advocates and attorneys). The public charge rule will only make things worse.

Many victims seeking certain forms of immigration status are actually exempt from the public charge bar, including refugees and asylees, those petitioning for status as crime victims (U visa), abused or neglected children (SIJS process), and self-petitioners under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). However, victims and their family members who seek immigration status in various other categories will be harmed as a consequence of the expanded public charge rule.

Not only does the public charge rule undermine federal and state policies to support victims by discouraging them from accessing critical services, the rule exacerbates the harmful impacts of abuse by keeping them trapped in abusive relationships, or undermining their ability to reunite with supportive family members if they escape. Particularly when minimum wage work places families well below the poverty level, safety-net benefits help survivors afford the basics such as food, housing, and healthcare. These benefits also help them rebuild their lives after violence. Without sufficient resources, victims are either compelled back into an abusive relationship, or else face destitution and homelessness. The impacts on victims and their children have long term implications for the health and safety of our communities at large.

“The Alliance for Immigrant Survivors (AIS) is grateful to groups like the National Immigration Law Center who are filing lawsuits challenging the harmful rule in an attempt to ensure that everyone in our communities can access the resources they need to thrive,” added Huang. “We call on Members of Congress to mobilize against this rule that will harm families and amplify a climate of fear. AIS will continue informing the public and advocating in opposition to policies like the public charge rule that harm immigrant survivors and their families.”

See this newly revised advisory by the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence, an AIS Co-Chair, that provides more information about how the public charge rule impacts immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.