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Trump administration continues assault on New Americans with new rule

Clark Goldenrod
Aug 21, 2019
Last week, the Trump administration released its final rule for a policy that would make it harder for New Americans - people who have moved here from another country - to thrive and to fully contribute to our communities and the economy. This policy would make it harder for New Americans to keep their families together and puts new roadblocks on their path to citizenship. The rule is scheduled to go into effect mid-October, but advocates across the country will be working to block the rule from going into effect.

The final rule looks very similar to a proposal released last fall

This final rule judges the value of New Americans by how much money they have, rather than how they contribute to their communities. Currently, when people apply to adjust their immigration status, like applying for a “green card” that allows them to live and work in the U.S., the government determines whether that person has “public charge” status.

A number of factors, including age, health, family status, financial status, and skills, are used to evaluate whether the "totality of circumstances" indicates public charge status. Use or potential use of public supports are also taken into account. Under current policy, only two types of supports are counted to determine “public charge” status: cash assistance (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) and use of long-term care facilities. The same process occurs when people apply to move to the U.S. Having “public charge” status can make individuals ineligible to come to the United States or receive a green card.

The new rule would greatly expand how “public charge” is determined in the future, and would harm families trying to put a roof over their heads or buy groceries to feed growing kids. The final rule will add supports like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, and Medicaid to the list of services considered in evaluating “public charge” status. The final rule slightly differs from the earlier proposal. The final rule includes exceptions for people who are pregnant and using Medicaid, and for children receiving Medicaid or CHIP, so receiving those supports will not count against people when undergoing a public charge evaluation. 

In addition to the services that are considered, the rule also vastly expands the definition of who qualifies as a "public charge," which would now be defined as receiving "one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period." This means that an immigrant who is working hard and uses SNAP to help put food on the table could be considered a public charge. The new definition also says that if someone is using two benefits in a month, that would count as two months. So an immigrant who receives food assistance through SNAP and housing assistance for only six months could be considered a public charge. 

For their income, New Americans would also be subject to new income tests in determining their status. They would be required to earn at least 125 percent of the poverty line to not count as a negative factor in their public charge determination. The rule would also adopt a threshold of 250 percent of the poverty line (or about $64,000 for a household of four) for a family to receive a heavily favorable consideration toward receiving a green card or being authorized to come to the U.S. This is a standard that a majority of people in the US would fail; around 40 percent of people living in the United States earn less than this standard. People often move to the United States in search of greater economic opportunity, but the rule sends the message that only New Americans who already have money and resources are welcome.

This policy goes against our country’s basic values. Our government has long held that certain supports, such as those that improve health, should be available to everyone who needs them. The rule also ignores how New Americans are contributing to our communities, as our neighbors who work, pay taxes, and learn alongside us. But the administration abandons this logic, going forward with a rule that will harm immigrant families. 

The harm from this proposal is already being felt. There's already evidence that fear and confusion are causing eligible people to not access essential supports like food and health care. 

This new rule continues a pattern of the current administration targeting immigrants and people of color. For example, up until recently the Trump administration worked to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. Such a question would lower Census participation among Latinx folks and immigrants, resulting in less funding for services in the communities and states they live in. The administration also has drafted another pending public charge rule that would likely subject more people to deportation. 

This public charge rule is a mistake, but it's not in effect yet. New Americans are vital contributors to our communities, and they should be able to receive basic supports so that they can thrive and help build our economy. To that end, we and many other organizations and individuals submitted comments to the federal government last fall urging the Trump administration to reject this proposed rule. These comments will help fuel litigation to stop or delay the scheduled implementation of the new public charge rule. Stay tuned for updates both here and on our Facebook and Twitter profiles.