Written on: December 12, 2018
December 5, 2018
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Department of Homeland Security
20 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20529-2140
Re: DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012, RIN 1615-AA22, Comments in Response to Proposed Rulemaking: Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds
To Whom It May Concern:
On behalf of The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, I write in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“proposed rule”) to express our strong opposition to DHS’ proposal to significantly broaden the grounds by which an applicant for lawful permanent residency would be deemed a “public charge” and to formally request DHS withdraw this proposal.
The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart is a Catholic Congregation of women religious founded to serve the poor and educate youth. Hence, anything that negatively impacts any person or groups of pesons calls us to their defense.
Catholic social teaching guides our work and our position that we as a nation must welcome immigrants, no matter their national origin or socioeconomic status, out of respect for the dignity of the human person. Pope Benedict XVI recalled that throughout history, the United States “have opened their doors to the tired, the poor, the ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ These are the people whom America has made her own.” This proposed rule would exclude classes of people based on lack of wealth and access to opportunity. This is unacceptable and immoral and so we request that this proposal be withdrawn to ensure that immigrants of any socioeconomic status have the opportunity to reunite with family members in the United States and seek dignity, security, and stability.
The Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart opposes the proposed rule because it is inherently antithetical to our values as a nation. Not only would the rule compromise the health, nutrition and stability of millions of families, it would change the face of our country – a country that was founded to be a beacon of hope/welcoming place for immigrants from all backgrounds, not just the wealthy.
We oppose this rule because it would make immigrant families afraid to seek programs like that safeguard their health, nutrition, housing, and economic security. This proposal would put millions in the place of choosing between short-term supports they and their families are eligible for or the stability that lawful permanent residency provides. This would be counterproductive, causing a foreseeable and unnecessary poverty loop. Use of public benefits breaks that poverty loop and helps people to become self-sufficient, as demonstrated by the fact that the majority of public benefit recipients voluntarily end participation within a few years. Furthermore, the proposal would arbitrarily prevent immigrants from obtaining or maintaining lawful immigration status, which U.S. Department of Labor data shows improves immigrants’ hourly wages.
The proposed rule is premised on a faulty assumption that something is wrong with USCIS’s current definition of “public charge” and its practice of making such determinations – a practice that has been in place for almost 20 years. The government has failed to state a sufficient reason for a change of this nature, one that would have significant economic implications and adverse consequences for immigrant families. Surely, any changes as significant as those proposed by the government must be proportionate to any issues or concerns with the current practice. We respectfully disagree with the government’s premise and question the methodology used in making a determination that there is a problem with the current practice that needs to be addressed in this way.
We also oppose the proposed rule because it would create significant and unnecessary burdens on U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and applicants, further slowing an already drawn-out process. The proposed changes may also disadvantage applicants faced with short windows of opportunity for filing and adjudications on their cases due to visa number availability.
The proposed rule could prevent immigrants from maintaining or establishing their lawful immigration status if they do not meet income requirements or use one of a variety of anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs, including non-emergency Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and public housing. Currently, there are only two conditions the government may consider when applying a “public charge test.” One is cash assistance for income maintenance. The second is government-funded long-term institutionalization of an applicant. The proposed rule would dramatically expand the test, abandoning the enduring meaning of a public charge as a person who depends on the government for subsistence, and applying it to those who only use some benefits to make ends meet for their family.
The proposed rule also states that language would be a factor, which would signify a dramatic and fundamental change from our nation’s historic commitment to welcoming immigrants. Instead of welcoming all, the proposed rule sends a message that you are only welcome if you are from wealthy, English-speaking countries, while alienating most other parts of the world. Currently, the language test is administered at the naturalization stage, providing several years for immigrants to immerse themselves in our language.
For the reasons provided here, USCIS should promptly withdraw its proposed rule, which would impair, rather than advance, immigrants’ ability to financially support themselves and their families in the future. If we want our communities to thrive, families must be able to stay together and receive the care, services and support they need to remain healthy and productive.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on this proposed rule. Please do not hesitate to contact Sister Diane Bardol to provide further information.
Sister Diane Bardol, GNSH, Social Justice Coordinator
 Pope Benedict XVI, “Celebration of Vespers and Meeting with the Bishops of the United States of America,” National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., 16 Apr. 2008. Available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20080416_bishops-usa.html.
 Irving, Shelley K. and Tracy A. Loveless, “Dynamics of Economic Well-Being: Participation in Government Programs, 2009 – 2012: Who Gets Assistance?” U.S. Department of Commerce, May 2015.
 Smith, Shirley J et al., “Characteristics and Labor Market Behavior of the Legalized Population Five Years Following Legalization,” U.S. Department of Labor, May 1996.