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Proposed Changes to Public Charge: Catholic Charities is Ready

CCNY Food Distribution

By Jim Sliney Jr.

A dear friend of mine lived a perfectly normal life until the age of 16. While an honor student in high school, she developed a rare, autoimmune disease. It came out of nowhere and it never left. She’s 26 now, owns a small business, just got engaged, and she subsists off of Social Security Disability Income and eats all of her meals through a tube in her abdomen that connects to her stomach.

She loves, dreams, and aspires. I just can’t help but to think, if she were born in another country, she might be labeled a “public charge.”

The issue of the “public charge” is straightforward. A public charge was once considered an immigrant who lives primarily on the support of the federal government. The new interpretation of public charge is to include someone, such as an immigrant, who uses one or more government services or is likely to in the future. If my grandmother from Macedonia was still alive, I guess I’d have to pack her and her Medicare up and ship her back home.


Claudia Calhoon, The New York Immigration Coalition’s senior director of immigration integration policy told The Daily Star, “For families who have the right to bring a family member here, or are sponsoring someone (through the immigration process), the public charge rule targets them particularly."

Catholic Charities of New York’s Immigration and Refugee Services is there to help New Yorkers make the decisions that are best for their situation when (or if) the rule goes into effect on October 15th. The Immigration and Nationality Act would change the definition of "public charge" to include people who are receiving public assistance like Medicaid benefits or SNAP. It is predicted to cause a lot of confusion and fear. Many poor and low-income immigrant families might avoid public assistance programs all together for fear of being targeted for deportation. Canceling public assistance programs are not necessarily the best things to do and may end up hurting you and your loved ones down the road.

In partnership with Univision, the Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, and several other non-profit legal groups; three live phone banks answered questions about these very issues in English, Spanish, and other languages. On Thursday, September 12, 2019, Univision will host a Facebook Live event at 5:00 PM (EST) from the offices of Catholic Charities New York, where a panel of legal and immigration experts will bring us the latest information the Public Charge issue.

Referring to the legal challenge filed by organizations including Catholic Charities of New York, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan, it’s director, said, “We had hoped that our objections to this rule would have been heard by this administration. But as a leader in providing legal services to these communities we also understand that we must turn to the courts to protect these fundamental rights.”

New York’s attorney general, Leticia James, said in the preliminary injunction against the rule change, “If enforced, the public charge rule will not only sow fear and chaos into the lives of immigrants working to lift themselves and their families out of poverty but will have an adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers…”

Assemblymember Catalina Cruz urged immigrants to check with trusted organizations before canceling participation in benefits.

Mario Russell, the Director of Immigration and Refugee Services at Catholic Charities of NY said, “This new public charge rule goes against what we believe, against who we are.”


We are children of a loving God who condition His love is not based on where we come from or how much we are going to cost Him. We believe there is no sacrifice too great to show love and charity to our brothers and sisters of any nationality, faith or economic status.

Catholic Charities helps immigrants reunite legally with their families. They help immigrants obtain proper work authorizations, learn English and civics, and prepare to pass citizenship exams. Catholic Charities also assists immigrants in avoiding exploitation by unscrupulous practitioners by providing correct information and realistic counsel about immigration status.