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Md. immigration attorneys discuss proposed ‘public charge’ rules

OCEAN CITY — Immigration attorneys took part Thursday in a session at the MSBA’s Legal Summit and Annual Meeting about how new and contemplated changes to U.S. Department of State rules on visa applications are affecting their clients.

Visa denials have “skyrocketed,” according to Washington immigration attorney Danielle Beach-Oswald. From 2017 to 2018, denials increased by more than 300%, she said.

“The changes are quite chilling in many circumstances and have very challenging effects,” said Beach-Oswald, of Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates P.C.

The panel focused on proposed changes to rules defining “public charge.” The changes would determine who enters or remains in the country based on individuals’ use of public benefits, including such non-cash benefits as free school lunches and vaccines recommended by public health officials.

“If you receive any public benefits, you’re going to be affected,” Beach-Oswald said.

Sunny K. Desai, a Maryland Legal Aid attorney on the panel, said a Washington think tank estimated that if the current definition of public charge was applied to U.S. citizens, fewer than 5% would be affected, while up to 50% would be affected under the proposed rule changes.

An amendment to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual made in January allows consular officers to consider any public benefits used by an applicant’s family members who already live in the United States.

Baltimore filed suit over those changes in November, alleging they are unconstitutional. The lawsuit claims immigrants are using benefits programs less frequently because consular officers are denying visas if an applicant or the family member sponsoring an applicant has participated in them.

Desai noted that legal challenges will follow if any of the proposed rules become final.

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