Biden administration proposes eliminating barriers in ‘public charge’ rule

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The Biden administration is proposing a more “fair and humane” version of the “public charge” rule that would eliminate many of the barriers imposed by the Trump administration on noncitizens seeking to qualify for legal status.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday proposed a much narrower definition of which public benefits an immigrant may potentially be dependent on, which the government can use to determine whether that person should be admitted into the country.

The Trump administration in 2019 expanded the definition of “public charge” to make it much easier for immigration officials to deny entry or legal status to people likely to rely on government assistance. 

“The 2019 public charge rule was not consistent with our nation’s values,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Under this proposed rule, we will return to the historical understanding of the term ‘public charge’ and individuals will not be penalized for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”

Under current regulations put in place in 1996, the term “public charge” is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning that the government supplies more than half their income. Congress in the 1996 welfare reform law indicated that the availability of public benefits should not be an incentive for immigration into the United States.

The Trump administration expanded the rule to say that anyone who needed benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, or housing vouchers for more than 12 months were considered a “public charge” and were more likely to be denied a green card. 

That policy is no longer in effect.

In the proposal, the DHS cited experts who said the rule put a chilling effect on people who weren’t directly affected, and discouraged permanent residents and even U.S. citizens from using benefits like medical care over concerns it might keep them from obtaining legal status.

“It caused many noncitizens to be fearful of accessing benefits that Congress intended them to have,” the DHS said in the proposal.  

In a change, the Biden administration said it aims to focus primarily on cash benefits. Unlike the Trump administration, the DHS said it no longer intends to consider noncash benefits, like food assistance, Medicaid benefits, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, housing benefits and transportation vouchers.

The use of disaster or pandemic assistance, Social Security, government pensions and other earned benefits will also not be considered. 

The new proposal will have a 60-day public comment period, the DHS said. 

Tags Alejandro Mayorkas green card Immigration Medicaid public charge

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