Millions Will Feel Chilling Effects of U.S. Public-Charge Rule That Is Also Likely to Reshape Legal Immigration

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The public-charge rule issued this week by the Trump administration will have profound effects on legal admissions to the United States and on use of public benefits by millions of legal noncitizens and the U.S. citizens with whom they live. The rule gives the government broad discretion to deny admission to a large share of those who currently enter based on family relationships. At the same time, the complex new standards for determining when an immigrant is likely to become a public charge could cause a significant share of the nearly 23 million noncitizens and U.S. citizens in immigrant families using public benefits to disenroll, the Migration Policy Institute estimates. These chilling effects may be broadened with the expected release of a new proposed regulation expected to expand the grounds for deporting legally present noncitizens using public benefits.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rule dramatically expands the circumstances under which individuals can be denied admission and green cards based on a finding that they are likely at any time to become a public charge. Under the new standards, replacing guidelines in place since 1999, immigration officials will look at factors including the person’s age, health, family status, education, skills, assets, resources, role as a caregiver, and whether the person is using or has used in the past three years one or more of a set of public benefits. The benefits list includes cash assistance, Medicaid (but not for children or pregnant women), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) and housing subsidies.

The rule will foreseeably have immigration effects and public-benefits effects.  The immigration effects will occur as the administration denies admissions and adjustments of status. The public-benefits effects will occur because millions of immigrants and their family members will be chilled from applying for or staying enrolled in public benefits program. According to MPI analysis of U.S Census Bureau data, the population that could feel the rule’s “chilling effects” and disenroll includes 10 million noncitizens—47 percent of the noncitizen population in the United States. These noncitizens live in families with 12 million U.S.-citizen family members—nearly two-thirds of them children, and chilling effects will extend to their citizen family members. And it will fall particularly hard on the two largest racial/ethnic immigrant groups: Latinos and Asian American/Pacific Islanders (AAPI). Approximately 16.4 million people live in benefit-receiving families with at least one Latino noncitizen and 3 million live in such families with at least one AAPI noncitizen.

Public-interest groups, immigrant-rights advocates, state and local governments, social-service providers, and others worked actively to seek to urge the administration to not expand public-charge standards: More than 266,000 comments were filed during the rule’s public comment period. But the final rule looks much like the proposed rule first unveiled in October 2018.


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