AILA Comments on Public Charge - Feb. 27, 1998

February 27, 1998

Edward Odom
Chief, Legislation and Regulations Division
Visa Office
U.S. Department of State
Room L603-C, SA-1
Washington, DC 20520-0106

Re: Response to the Interim Rule Regarding Public Charge published at 62 Federal Register 67563, December 29, 1997

Dear Sir:

In response to the interim rule implementing provisions of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (“IIRAIRA”) regarding the acceptance of affidavits of support by consular posts abroad and the determination by consular officers of public charge, following are the comments of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (“AILA”) and the American Immigration Law Foundation (“AILF”).

AILA is a voluntary bar association of over 5,000 lawyers and law professors practicing and teaching in the field of immigration and nationality law. Its members represent the entire spectrum of those involved in our country’s immigration laws, from aliens seeking immigration benefits to employers, U.S. citizens and other U.S. entities seeking to sponsor foreign nationals.

AILF is a non-profit organization established to increase public understanding of immigration law and policy, to promote public service and professional excellence in the field of immigration law, and to advance fundamental fairness, due process, and basic constitutional and human rights in immigration law and administration.

Because of this collective expertise , which includes extensive experience in the field of immigrant visa processing, AILA and AILF are uniquely qualified to assess the impact of this interim rule.

As an initial matter, we are appreciative of the Department’s desire to open these issues for public comment. We hope that the Department will continue to share its thoughts on the implementation of IIRAIRA as it moves through the process of guiding consular officers through new systems and new requirements.

However, we remain concerned with the implementation of the affidavit of support requirement, even with the limited role played by the Department in interpreting these requirements. In particular, we are concerned that the level of discretion given to consular officers to find likelihood of becoming a public charge despite meeting the requirements of the income or assets test imposed by the new affidavit of support.

The interim rule (40.41 (a) and (d)) provides for a consular officer to determine that a sponsor has not satisfied the public charge ground of inadmissibility, even if there is on file a properly executed and presumably enforceable affidavit of support (I-864) and the sponsor has passed all income or assets test required by the INS. There is no guidance for the consular officer, although the INS regulations provide some guidance as to the inability to maintain the sponsor’s income at the required level. Faced with this lack of guidance, consular officers will have difficulty distinguishing among a myriad of factors beyond those authorized by the statute. This uncertainty will prejudice many immigrants and sponsors who otherwise meet the statutory and regulatory income requirements. To the extent that the affidavit of support and its criteria were instituted to add elements of certainty into the process of identifying and eliminating those likely to become a public charge, this unbridled discretion is without support.

Assuming this discretion will continue to play an important role in the process, it will be even more important to afford would-be immigrants a meaningful opportunity to rebut a finding of inadmissibility on these grounds. Such a review process will aid consular officers in making correct and equitable decisions, protecting the integrity of the process and also protecting the immigrants and their sponsors.

At a minimum, we suggest that the Department consult with interested stakeholders prior to the issuance of field guidance on these issues. We remain available to participate in such discussions and would welcome an opportunity to discuss the implementation of these issues further.

Finally, we thank the Department for this opportunity to present our views and look forward to receiving your response.




Cite as AILA Doc. No. 98022740.