Victory for Immigrant Food Access
March 12, 2021
After more than two years of fierce national and local advocacy, the U.S. Department of Justice announced on March 9 that it has finally dropped its legal defense of the Trump Administration’s proposed public charge rule. The U.S. Supreme Court and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the government’s appeals shortly after. The proposed rule sought to radically undermine more than a century of immigration law and guidance, instituting a wealth test in part by making use of basic food programs a factor in making immigrants ineligible for green cards and other status adjustments. This cruel and racist rule proposed in 2019 discouraged millions of Californians from accessing vital health and nutrition benefits, like SNAP (CalFresh), causing real and lasting harm to immigrant communities across our state.
Together with the hundreds of organizations and families across the country who advocated, spoke up, and documented the harm from the rule, we celebrate this tremendous victory. Thank you to the many frontline food bank staff and CalFresh outreach workers who tirelessly answered questions and helped families navigate how the public charge rule might have impacted them. We know many food banks saw firsthand the devastating impact of this rule in their communities.
We also share our sincere gratitude for the national organizations that led the way and organized our collective advocacy to fight this rule, like the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) Campaign. They were instrumental in helping to translate complicated and sometimes confusing legal updates on the rule, and in creating valuable resources and information (like this factsheet about the March 9 victory!). CAFB was one of more than 500 organizations who signed on to the PIF campaign letter several weeks ago, which was sent to the Biden administration shortly before they announced the reversal of the public charge rule.
So, what does this victory mean for immigrant families today? It means that they can safely access CalFresh, Medi-Cal, and other health and nutrition programs without impacting their immigration status. Participation in these programs will not be considered when determining whether a person is a “public charge.” As of today, the Department of Homeland Security and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will use the 1999 field guidance that was in effect before the changes to the public charge rule were proposed by the Trump administration.
Now that the legal battle is over and won, the next phase of our advocacy will be to ensure that government agencies work to reestablish trust and address public charge-related fears among immigrant communities.
Original research by Rocio Perez, Emerson National Hunger Fellow, underscored the deep chilling effect that public charge has on immigrant families, even for benefits that were never proposed to be a part of the rule. We call on the federal and state governments to do the work to end what has been a nightmare for immigrant families just to meet basic needs, once and for all.
We call on the Biden Administration to continue this work, issuing new guidance and regulations ensuring that this is a permanent change. We also call on the Department of Homeland Security and the White House, reinforced by state agencies, to proactively communicate to immigrants and their families that the policy has been reversed and that it is safe to access food and other programs for which they are eligible without fear of immigration consequences.