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What's in a word: New immigration public charge rule and "bankruptcy"?

posted by Jason Kilborn

I was surprised to find that the explosive new US immigration "public charge" rule has some interesting bankruptcy angles. The rule is a thinly veiled attempt to reduce immigration to the US by non-wealthy individuals (i.e., the vast majority of applicants) by expanding the legal basis for "inadmissibility" based on the likelihood that the immigrant might at some point become a "public charge" drain on the US public welfare system (such as it is). The indirect bankruptcy angle is how similar this is to the BAPCPA means testing fiasco of 2005. Want to reduce access to a public benefit on the pretextual basis that it's being "abused"? Simply ramp up the formalistic application requirements! The new rule imposes a ridiculous and substantial paperwork burden on immigrants to demonstrate that they're not "inadmissible" as potential public charges, requiring completion of a means-test like questionnaire (with often only vaguely relevant questions) supported by a thick sheaf of evidence. The direct bankruptcy angle is ... one of the questions is about bankruptcy! Item 14 (!) asks "Have you EVER filed for bankruptcy, either in the United States or in a foreign country?" (emphasis in original). The thing that struck me about this question is that, of the small but growing number of non-Anglo "foreign countries" that have a system for providing debt relief to individuals, few call this system "bankruptcy." That word is reserved for business cases, creditor-initiated cases, a traditional liquidation not involving a multi-year payment plan, or some other distinction. Individual debt-relief procedures are often intentionally called something other than bankruptcy to signal these differences, reduce the stigma of seeking relief, and emphasize the rehabilitative function of the procedure. The public charge form (and instructions) betray no familiarity with this reality, even in the context of a follow-up question, "Type of Bankruptcy," with check-boxes for "Chapter 7," "Chapter 11," and "Chapter 13." Chauvinism, anyone? I guess I should be relieved that the ignorance of the drafters of this silly and odious new rule might have undermined the "bankruptcy" question, but that leaves honest immigration attorneys in a bit of a bind: do I prompt my client to answer "yes" and explain that her country doesn't have three "Chapters" or even "bankruptcy," but that her gjeldsordning procedure was the functional equivalent? Oh, I forgot--immigration from Norway is actually encouraged!

Comments

There is nothing wrong with the drafted question. There are hundreds or thousands of debtors seeking bankruptcy protection whose immigration adjustment application is pending at any time. This provision is for those who might have sought bankruptcy protection in the United States and are awaiting adjustment here. I have filed a lot of bankruptcies for such debtors. Yes, they were all concerned before filing, if it would impact their pending application for a green card. Section 525 prohibitions against the government is unclear.

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