NOI 1: Intro and Public Charge Grounds of Inadmissibility

With our inaugural episode, Nation of Immigrants talks about public charge grounds of inadmissibility and its impact on immigrants in the U.S.

Jacob Tingen: Hi and welcome to Nation of Immigrants. This is a project I’ve been working on for some time now, and I just feel like there needs to be more voices talking about immigration, who are knowledgeable and informed.

When I listen to people talk about the issue of immigration on the news or you see people comment things on Twitter and social media, you realize that we need more information.

We need to elevate this conversation a bit.

When I hear pundits, and opinion leaders, and sometimes public officials, and presidents talked about the issue of immigration, I realize that maybe they don’t have all of the information they need to intelligently talk about this issue.

Jacob Tingen: So I thought that there’s room for my voice, and there’s room for the voice of not just me as an immigration attorney, but immigration attorneys generally, to kind of help educate people about what’s going on and what’s really happening.

So let’s do this. Welcome to Nation of Immigrants.

Speaker 2: You’re listening to Nation of Immigrants-

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Speaker 2: … a podcast about U.S. immigration law with your host Jacob Tingen.

Jacob Tingen: All right. Well, thank you once again for coming and listening to this live stream. It will also be a podcast. It’ll be available later on iTunes.

What we’re going to talk about today is first of all, why have this conversation, why I’m qualified to be talking about it. And then I wanted to tackle just one issue, kind of as an introductory issue, about public charge grounds of inadmissibility, which is a mouthful, I know. But I promise that this podcast and this live stream is not intended for lawyers.

Even though we might use the occasional big legal word, I’m not going to dig into specific code sections here.

I want to open kind of these issues up so that they’re easily understood and that we can kind of talk about these issues in a real way with real people just in everyday conversation.

So that’s the purpose of Nation of Immigrants.

Jacob Tingen: So let’s talk about why even have this conversation. Well, I don’t know if you’ve been living under a rock or if you’ve been living here in the U.S., but immigration is a big issue. It’s being talked about all the time, everywhere.

It’s on the news. It’s in TV. It comes up at dinner conversations. It comes up in politics.

Immigration is a hot topic and one of the issues of the moment. So in that conversation, that debate, that we’re having in our nation, there’s a lot of information that isn’t 100% accurate and there’s a lot of hard feelings and good feelings.

It’s literally zero to 10, it’s A to Z. Immigration is all over the map.

So what I’d like to do is kind of figure out what conversations we’re having and provide, at least from a legal, lawyer standpoint, what’s actually going on and what are the impacts of some of these policies, and conversations, and decisions that are making every day.

Jacob Tingen: Who am I, and why am I qualified to do that? Well, my name is Jacob Tingen. I’m the managing partner of Tingen Law. It’s a local law firm here in central Virginia. We’ve represented literally thousands and thousands of clients, many in the area of immigration.

I have personally assisted more than 1,000 clients in consults and cases in the area of immigration. Our firm also represents people in family law, criminal defense, some business stuff.

We kind of are beginning to do more of a general practice, but immigration is where we started. It’s our home. And I do love immigration law.

Jacob Tingen: When I started practicing as a lawyer, I envisioned doing international mergers and acquisitions and international business, which, and we’ll talk more about this in a bit, but I did actually manage to get into some of that angle.

But when I started, I started doing immigration law. I couldn’t find a job that I liked when I first graduated from law school, so I decided to just start my own law practice. I reached out to a friend of mine who was running on a pro bono clinic for immigration and I said, “Hey, can I take a couple of cases?” I had to leave a voicemail. Later that day, he called me back and say, “Hey, would you like to take on a couple hundred cases?”

Jacob Tingen: It turned out that he was leaving his firm and going to a new firm, and he wasn’t able to take his pro bono caseload with him.

So I ended up with about 150 of those 200 or so cases that he had, and I did many of them pro bono and a lot of them low bono as well, so for low-cost legal services.

I have to say that that experience changed who I am, how I practice law, and frankly, how I feel about the issue of immigration.

Jacob Tingen: In addition, our law firm here in central Virginia has made some headway for the immigrant community. We’ve brought a lawsuit against the local Sheriff’s Office over immigration ICE detainer practices, which settled a couple of years ago.

And then, partially as a result of that, I was invited to teach a course at the University of Richmond School of Law. So I’ll be teaching that for the third time this coming spring semester. It’s the Immigrants’ Rights Practicum.

I can tell you with all the movement that’s going on in government and policy that there’s definitely a need for a class like that.

Jacob Tingen: And then finally on the business side, like I said, these things kind of come full circle.

There is a visa for some immigrants known as the EB-5 visa or the millionaire investment visa.

So essentially, if an immigrant invests a range of dollars, ranging from currently 500,000 to a million, new regulations are changing that from 900,000 to 1.8 million, but if they invest this amount of money and create 10 jobs in the United States, they get a green card.

It just so happens that the U.S. code allows entrepreneurial people who are in the U.S. to create third-party entities called regional centers to manage the investment money of these EB-5 investors.

Jacob Tingen: So a business partner of mine and I, we applied for regional center designation and we got approved last year.

And so we’re kind of getting started with our regional center now, and we’re excited to be operating that.

So, I’ve done humanitarian immigration. I’ve done business immigration. I’m teaching a course at a law school and educating new attorneys on immigration issues. I frequently get invited to speak at different events.

Over the summer, I got invited to speak at the Virginia State Bar Annual Conference at Virginia Beach.

Jacob Tingen: So I regularly speak about this topic. I know a lot about it, and I know more than many of the voices online are talking about it.

And that’s not like a prideful statement, it’s a fact, which is why I want to kind of talk about this issue and raise my voice a little more often through this podcast, and this live stream, and get some of this information out there.

Because I think it’s valuable, and I think that we can treat immigrants in our country better than we currently do.

Jacob Tingen: So let’s talk about public charge. Why public charge? Well, last week, I got a text Monday morning and one of my buddies was all like, “Hey, what do you think about this?” And it was an article about this new rule that’s come out from USCIS that expands the definition of what is a public charge.

So let’s break down the phrase public charge grounds of inadmissibility, which is a big legal-sounding phrase, but we’re going to break it down. Inadmissibility means reasons that we keep people out of the country.

Jacob Tingen: In the Immigration and Nationality Act, we list 10 reasons that we keep people out of the country. One of those reasons is public charge, which in a nutshell means you are too poor to emigrate to the United States.

So for some of you who are hearing this for the first time, you might be surprised and say, “Well, that’s not the America that I believe in. I didn’t know that we excluded people just for being too poor.” But we do.

We do because the concept is that it’s in our national interest to bring people who will contribute to society, and the poor are not able to do that in the same way as the not poor are able to contribute to society.

Jacob Tingen: Now, your reaction may be like one of my law students, who when I taught about public charge grounds of inadmissibility, they said,

“Right. This is a great idea because when has a poor immigrant ever made anything of themselves?”

Now, of course, that’s a sarcastic comment.

Poor immigrants and immigrants of all kinds, rich and poor contribute to our society in immeasurable ways. So this idea that we should keep people out for this sole reason may not jive with you.

I wanted to kind of bring it back to the Statue of Liberty and read the quote because this has recently been reinterpreted as well by some of the people behind public charge, the expanding the definition of public charge.

Jacob Tingen: So here’s the quote from the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Now, that’s from the Statue of Liberty, and that is what a lot of people think about when they think of the United States of America. We’re a land of hope and opportunity. And that was one of the things I’ve always said.

You know, it doesn’t matter how high the wall is, as long as America stands for hope and opportunity, people will come because they believe they can better themselves in their lives here. And I think that that’s a reasonable belief.

Jacob Tingen: So let’s talk about how the definition of public charge grounds has been expanded.

Now, public charge is one of the biggest reasons that people get denied entry to the U.S. When people in other countries apply for even just a visitor’s visa to come to the United States, they frequently get denied because we believe that they might become a public charge. And that means that maybe a consular official in an interview with an immigrant determines that that immigrant doesn’t have enough money to come for the purpose of their trip.

Even if they’re coming for Disneyland, if they only have 100 bucks in their bank account, that’s not enough. We’re worried you’re going to be a public charge. We’re not going to let you in.

Jacob Tingen: So it’s also a reason that we would deny people for a green card. So when a family member, a U.S. citizen, petitions for an immigrant spouse, they have to prove that their income is sufficient to prevent their immigrant spouse from becoming a public charge, which means their income is 125% of the federal poverty guidelines.

Now, all of this seems reasonable except for the fact that it excludes frankly just a lot of the poor people who could contribute to our society.

Then, you have to consider that sometimes people are denied on public charge grounds for things that don’t quite make sense.

So women in particular, if you’re pregnant or believe that you might become pregnant, you might be a public charge just because you’re a woman. And I know many people who would not be okay with that.

Jacob Tingen: Now, of course, medical tourism is a thing, and people are concerned about… And I’m going to put this in quotation marks, anchor babies, right? Which we’ll save for another podcast.

But yeah, the idea that you’re a public charge just because you might need a medical procedure. I know many, many people that wouldn’t agree with that.

Jacob Tingen: Well, let’s talk about this new rule.

On August 12th, it was announced that a new rule restricting poor immigrants from attaining lawful permanent residence would go into effect October 15th.

Basically, legal immigrants, so people who have followed the rules, who have gotten in line as people popularly say, but who have fallen on hard times in the United States and then needed a government benefit for a period of time may be considered a public charge.

When they apply for a green card, when they’re trying to seal the deal and make it all official and be here permanently, they might get denied simply because they fell on hard times.

Jacob Tingen: The National Immigration Law Center stated about the new rule that, “It will have a dire humanitarian impact forcing some families to forgo a critical lifesaving health care and nutrition. The damage will be felt for decades to come.” And I’ve got to tell you that the damage is being felt currently.

I have some clients who…I have a client who’s currently petitioning for an immigrant spouse, and he got sick a year or so ago and was concerned that the fact that he lost his job due to illness and couldn’t work and then his family told him, “Hey. Look, you pay taxes. You’re a good, upstanding citizen. Why don’t you apply for a government benefit in the meantime to help you make ends meet?” And so he decided to do that.

Now, this is someone whose income is high enough to definitely support his spouse, his immigrant spouse, but he was concerned to the point that he called me and said, “Hey, I just read about this new rule.”

He was kind of concerned that the fact that he’d used government assistance in the past. Now, we’re applying for that one before October 15th, so it shouldn’t matter that much.

Jacob Tingen: But, you know, the fact that us citizens, and families, people, neighbors, people that we know and that we want to be in our society are concerned and might be considering not using a government benefit that they are entitled to receive because they’re lawful, tax-paying citizens. And they’re worried about not doing that because it might affect immigration later on.

I don’t think that is the message of the United States. I don’t think that’s what we want to have happen.

Now, just so that you know how much this is a problem or just kind of where the administration is coming from on this new rule… I think it’s important to recognize where they’re coming from.

Jacob Tingen: Let’s look at the words of Ken Cuccinelli himself. So he appeared and discussed this rule, and he reinterpreted the poem on the Statue of Liberty in the following way.

He said, “Give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.” And then he also said that when the sonnet on the Statue of Liberty referred to wretched people, it said, “People coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched, even if they weren’t in the right class,” that that’s who the Statue of Liberty was talking about.

I don’t really think so. I think the Statute of Liberty was talking about, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” And I think most people who read the poem would agree.

Jacob Tingen: So there’s this issue about how should…Well, first of all, should public charge even be grounds of inadmissibility.

I will note that it has been a grounds of inadmissibility for about 100 years.

However, whether or not it is, but how it should be interpreted and how strict we should be when we interpret public charge grounds of inadmissibility, that’s something that we need to be talking about.

That’s something that we need to be aware of. And when we say things like, “Public charge,” that sanitizes the issue.

So what we really need to ask ourselves is, “Should we keep people out of this country because they’re too poor?” And that is what we’re talking about, nation of immigrants.

Jacob Tingen: Thank you for listening to this first episode. Don’t forget to subscribe on YouTube. Follow on Facebook. Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. It’ll be there shortly, and I hope you come back to listen again.

Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to Nation of Immigrants.

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Speaker 2: Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, watch the live stream on YouTube and Facebook, or visit to learn more.

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