Are you a legal professional? Visit our professional site

New DHS Rule Poses Threat to Religious Workers and Organizations

Hands of priest holding rosary and praying over black background
By Richard Dahl on October 04, 2019 3:52 PM

Many religious organizations benefit from immigrants who come to the U.S. and work for little or no pay, many of them having taken vows of poverty.

A recently published rule by the Department of Homeland Security, however, threatens to make it far more difficult for these people to stay and work in the U.S.

The rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15, is aimed at migrants who are perceived as likely to become a “public charge,” a person who relies primarily on government assistance. A federal law already requires migrants who seek to become permanent residents to demonstrate that they will not be a burden on society. But the new rule expands the scope of that suspect population by saying that anyone seeking immigrant visas, green cards, or lawful permanent residence status could have those requests denied if they received public-assistance benefits (food stamps, housing subsidies, Medicaid, etc.) for any 12 months during a three-year period prior to their application.

Applicants Must Show Financial Self-Sufficiency

When it comes to religious organizations, the rule poses an additional obstacle, as a recent article in America: The Jesuit Review points out. Men and women in religious orders – such as Jesuits, Franciscans or Buddhist monks – take vows of poverty and rely on their communities to provide for their basic needs. The new rule, however, has shifted responsibility from the sponsoring organization to the individual worker.

Prior to the rule change, an organization would fill out an “affidavit of support” to show that the sponsor had enough income so that the immigrant would not fall into poverty. Instead, the new rule now requires applicants to complete a “declaration of self-sufficiency” form and support it with documentary evidence.

“We want to see people coming into this country who are self-sufficient,” Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said at a press briefing on Aug. 12. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

But Sally Duffy, treasurer of the board of directors at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., and author of the America article, argues that the rule ignores a long tradition of religious organizations’ reliance on migrant workers who fill roles as chaplains, teachers and health-care workers.

“The communities they serve help to keep our economy humming and continue the American tradition of welcoming immigrants,” she wrote. “Requiring these workers to meet income standards based on a middle-class lifestyle represents a core misunderstanding and rejection of their work and value.”

The new rule only applies to applications received after Oct. 15. If you have questions about your immigration status and how the rule may affect it, you should get in touch with an experienced immigration attorney today.

Related Resources