Trump administration releases new 'public charge' rule making it easier to reject immigrants

The Trump administration on Monday released the final version of a controversial rule that dramatically increases the government's ability to reject green cards for people who are deemed likely to depend on government aid such as food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid.

The new "public charge" rule would link a subject's immigration status to their income and their use of certain public programs.

Published in the Federal Register, the rule will officially be released Wednesday and go into effect 60 days later. 

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Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, announced the rule at a press briefing at the White House on Monday morning.

The administration has portrayed the rule as a way to promote sufficiency and independence among immigrants.

"We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet," Cuccinelli said. "A poor person can prepare to be self-sufficient... so let's not look at that as the be all end all."

But immigration advocacy groups have expressed concerns that it could discourage immigrants from seeking necessary assistance and lead to a chilling effect in minority communities.

The National Immigration Law Center announced as Cuccinelli took the podium that it would challenge the rule in court.

"It will have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forego critical life-saving health care and nutrition," NILC executive director Marielena Hincapieé said in a statement. "The damage will be felt for decades to come."

The rule defines the term "public charge" in the Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives the Department of Homeland Security authority to deny applicants green cards, visas or entry into the U.S. if there is a risk they will become public charges.

The public charge term has historically referred to someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence" based on their receipt of "public cash assistance."

The new rule expands the definition to include anyone who receives food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies.

Receipt of one or more of those designated public benefits for an aggregate 12 months within any three-year period by any noncitizen will be considered a negative factor in determining whether or not they become a public charge.

The rule contains a list of other positive and negative factors, like age, which will be evaluated together to make a public charge inadmissibility determination.

Cuccinelli emphasized that the determination is a “totality of circumstances test,” meaning that receiving one benefit will not be disqualifying for green card or visa applications.

He was also adamant that the rule is not a substitute for congressional action, insisting it does not undercut the need for broader immigration reforms.

The rule change was first announced in September of last year and was reportedly spearheaded by White House adviser Stephen MillerStephen MillerSenate Democrats demand Trump fire Stephen Miller Marianne Williamson roasted for claim Trump pardoned Charles Manson Juan Williams: Stephen Miller must be fired MORE, who has led the charge on a number of hardline initiatives to cut down on immigration.

It received over 200,000 public comments online, many of which were critical of the policy.

The Trump administration has consistently sought to curb both legal and illegal immigration. 

Senior White House adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerKushner pens NY Times piece defending Trump order combating anti-Semitism Trump signs executive order combating anti-Semitism on campuses The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - Democrats to release articles of impeachment today MORE has been developing an immigration plan that would shift the U.S. system to favor a skills-based application process rather than an applicant's family ties.

Experts last year predicted the proposed version of the rule would have a serious impact on all immigrants, regardless of whether they were specifically impacted by the policy, by disincentivizing the use of public programs.

“Numerous studies, by MPI and others, have found the rule would result in disenrollment from public benefits programs by many immigrants, including those not directly affected by the rule, as well as U.S.-born dependents,” the Migration Policy Institute wrote in a report.

“Already, there are anecdotal reports by service providers of people disenrolling from public benefit programs amid fear or confusion about the rule.”

The new rule includes some changes from the proposed version. It also sets thresholds under which receiving benefits will not trigger the designation.

Additionally, receipt of Medicaid will not be considered a factor for noncitizens “under the age of 21 and pregnant women during pregnancy and during the 60-day period after pregnancy.”

Brett Samuels contributed to this story.