by Mayra Episcopo, Guest Columnist
When my phone rings at the Division of Immigrant Affairs, the person on the other end of the line is likely an immigrant with a question. I help immigrants every day with employment, housing, food, lawyers, schooling—whatever is needed. I connect them with our local services network, our HealthierJC partners, and our own human services team.
But what would happen if my phone stopped ringing? If immigrants stopped trusting local government? In a city where two of every five residents were born in another country, the health of immigrants is a barometer of the city’s public health at large. If immigrants stop calling my phone, that signals a deficiency in the health of our entire City.
This month the federal government will use a new “public charge” immigration rule to restrict admission of immigrants who are poor, undereducated, underemployed, and who depend on public assistance programs. These individuals will be deemed “public charges”—which is an official way of calling certain immigrants “freeloaders.” But the new rule has so many exceptions and details in its 800 pages that few people fully understand it.
Consequently, the primary impact of this new immigration rule is confusion and fear. Record numbers of immigrants—even those explicitly exempt from the new rule—are disenrolling from essential public benefits programs that they qualify for and depend on to keep their families healthy.
To combat the fear and confusion, the Division of Immigrant Affairs and its partners stand on the front lines, providing essential information and reassurance. On Saturday, October 19, Jersey City is collaborating with a team of immigration and public benefits attorneys from Northeast New Jersey Legal Services to answer questions about the new “public charge” rule. All are welcome to attend this educational symposium at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. City Hall Annex from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
To combat the fear and confusion, the Division of Immigrant Affairs and its partners stand on the front lines.
We encourage all immigrants to attend on October 19 so they can hear from experts. In the meantime, we want to share some simple information about the newest rule change.
Receiving any of the following public benefits will not affect a “public charge” immigration determination:
- School lunches
- Emergency Shelters
- Head Start program
- Medicaid for pregnant women and children
- Educational grants (Pell grant)
If you are a member of these immigrant groups, you will not be affected by the new “public charge” rule:
- Lawful Permanent Residents applying for citizenship (Green Card holders)—with exceptions
- Refugees and asylees
- Citizens who were recently naturalized
- Active duty Armed Forces
- U, T, VAWA Visa holders
- Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
So, with so many exceptions to the new rule, which immigrants will be affected? Even the expert attorneys and immigration officials we’ve consulted have a difficult time answering this question. It seems as though the new rule would directly impact people living inside or outside the United States who are applying for Green Cards through a Family Petition or Adjustment of Status. Green Card holders could be impacted if they travel outside the United States too frequently. Speaking to an attorney can help you understand the new rule and make an informed decision. Come to our seminar on October 19 to ask general questions and hear an expert interpretation of the rule.
Speaking to an attorney can help you understand the new rule and make an informed decision.
Jersey City welcomes all immigrants. We identify as a Sanctuary City, and we have an excellent Immigrant Affairs Division dedicated to helping all of our immigrant communities succeed. As the child of Guatemalan immigrants, I am proud to serve that mission. For those who feel afraid and confused about new immigration rules, please come to our event on October 19, and as always, call my phone.
Mayra Episcopo is the Social Service Assistant for the Division of Immigrant Affairs at the Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services. She can be reached at 201-547-5107.
The information provided here is meant for general informational purposes and not legal advice.