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In February 2018, several major newspapers published a leaked draft of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed regulations that abandon longstanding immigration policy regarding the adminstration's determination of a "public charge." These new regulations will have a significant impact on U.S. immigration policy, effectively forcing both immigrant families and children of immigrants to choose between accessing almost any kind of public benefit or staying in the country. Since then, other leaked drafts have circulated increasing the number of public benefits and welfare programs that would make an individual inadmissible.

The proposed changes affect a determination known as “public charge.” It is one of the factors the government takes into consideration when approving green cards or determining admissibility. For over 100 years, immigration officials in the United States have denied admission or denied green cards to applicants based on their likelihood of becoming a public charge. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) defines a public charge as an individual who is likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” Currently immigration officials consider two main criteria in determining whether an individual would be a public charge: if the individual receives cash assistance like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or if they will be institutionalized in long-term care such as in a nursing home or mental health facility at the government’s expense.

The leaked drafts expand these criteria to include services low income residents are entitled to use like the Earned Income Tax Credit, non-emergency Medicaid, CHIP, Section 8 housing vouchers, SNAP food benefits, and the special supplemental nutritional program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Families will have to choose between accepting these benefits and potentially forfeiting their ability to become legal permanent residents (LPR). The new guidelines not only focus on applicants, but include anyone living in the household uses these benefits. This means that children born in the U.S. may not receive the SNAP or CHIP benefits they need, because it would put their family members at risk when applying for legal residency. Millions of children will lose access to programs ranging from healthcare to school lunches. Immigrant families trying to be reunited will be the most affected by this.

The new regulations will not only affect immigrants, but American citizens as well. Immigrants are already beginning to stop using public services, including the health insurance marketplace and Medicaid. Currently the law allows those living in the United States to purchase insurance from the Marketplace if their job does not provide affordable healthcare. Under the proposed rules those applying for LPR status will most likely no longer buy into the system. These changes could lead to a large decrease in participants, which would destabilize the marketplace system.

The proposed changes to public charge regulations will affect millions of immigrant families as well as U.S. citizens. The significant expansion of public benefits and welfare programs that could be added to the list of inadmissible services will have far reaching consequences, affecting health, nutrition, and healthcare. While these proposed changes have not yet been implemented, official changes are expected to be made this calendar year.


Click here to view a one pager on the proposed changes as well as action items for you and your community