The Department of Homeland Security has proposed a new rule that would make it easier for immigrants to seek federal health, nutrition, and housing programs without fear of losing eligibility to become permanent U.S. residents. The announcement comes a year after U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) stopped enforcing a Trump Administration order barring non-citizen recipients of such programs from becoming eligible for permanent residency. The order was issued in 2019 on the grounds that immigrants making use of those resources were likely to become “public charges.”
The Evolution of the “Public Charge” Rule
Historically, the term “public charge” was used to designate immigrants with physical or mental ailments, and women who were pregnant or had small children. The government believed their conditions would hinder their ability to obtain employment, thus burdening government resources.
More recently, the term referred to non-citizens who primarily relied on government assistance for more than half their cash income, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. The Trump administration's rule broadened the definition to include legal immigrants who had received nutrition, health, or public housing assistance for more than twelve months within any thirty-six month period.
When USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli announced the policy, he said it would “have the long-term benefit of protecting taxpayers by ensuring people who are immigrating to this country don't become public burdens, that they can stand on their own two feet, as immigrants in years past have done.” The National Immigration Law Center countered that the rule would “have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forgo critical lifesaving health care and nutrition.”
The Trump-era rule affected not just foreign nationals but also young U.S. citizens whose parents were foreign nationals. Even though their children were eligible to receive benefits, the rule made parents hesitant to seek benefits on behalf of their offspring.
Turning the 1999 Field Guidance Rule Into a Permanent Rule
The USCIS repealed the Trump rule in March 2021, stating that it would use the 1999 Interim Field Guidance rule to determine who was likely to become a public charge. Under the Field Guidance rule, immigrants may accept Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, housing benefits, child care subsidies, or other non-cash benefits without endangering their immigration status. The new USCIS proposal would make those guidelines permanent.
To schedule a consultation with experienced Palm Beach immigration attorney Jacqueline Delgado, call Delgado Law Group at (561) 342-1429 or schedule a consultation here.