The Public Charge Rule: What is it and How it Will Impact Immigrants and Their Families

The department of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced on Thursday that it will implement the public charge immigration rule on February 24.

The rule will allow the Trump administration to refuse green cards or visas to legal immigrants who depend on public assistance, except in the state of Illinois, where a statewide injunction is still in place, according to USCIS. The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the government could enforce the rule in a 5-4 vote, Politico reported. In October, three federal judges from New York, California and Washington temporarily blocked the rule so it would not go into effect that month in most states, NPR previously reported.

“By requiring those seeking to come or stay in the United States to rely on their own resources, families and communities, we will encourage self-sufficiency, promote immigrant success and protect American taxpayers,” Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary, said in a statement.

It was revealed in a report from Politico in August that White House senior adviser Stephen Miller pushed for the public charge rule. Now that the Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to enforce the public charge rule, it could have a severe impact on immigrants and their families who need public assistance.

What is Public Charge?

  • Protecting Immigrant Families campaign, which is made up of dozens of organizations that provide resources to keep immigrant families and allies informed of potential and current immigration policies, states that the public charge rule will require some people who apply for a green card or visa to pass a “public charge” test.

  • During the test, immigration officials will review a person’s age, health, income, education, skills and an affidavit of support from their sponsor.

  • The new rule could impact those that has used public assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Federal Public and Section 8 housing, Medicaid and cash assistance programs like Supplemental Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), according to the campaign.

  • Families who already have green cards will not be affected by the public rule which will only apply to individuals and families who are applying for citizenship inside and outside of the U.S. The campaign notes that most of the people who are subject to the new rule are not eligible for the listed public assistance programs.

  • The campaign states that most immigrants will not be affected by the rule. Permanent residents, refugees, asylees, domestic violence and trafficking survivors are not affected.

  • Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), food banks, shelters, state and locally funded health care programs are also not included in the public charge test.

What immigration advocates are saying

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated it is opposed to the new rule, and that it negatively impacts low-income families and individuals with disabilities.

“This policy is yet another way for the Trump administration to hurt immigrants. It enshrines the false stereotype that people with disabilities do not contribute to our society,” Claudia Center, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Disability Rights Program, said in a statement. “Families will suffer. Congress has repeatedly declared that disability discrimination violates federal law. This rule must be stopped.”

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) said the rule “amplifies fear and confusion” because it leaves immigrants and their families unsure of what public assistance programs they are eligible for.

“The injunction lifted by the Supreme Court today was the only thing preventing a cruel policy from going into effect – a policy that intentionally creates fear among low-income immigrants from using services and programs for which they qualify,” Erin Quinn, senior staff attorney at the ILRC, said in a statement. “The chilling effect of this rule is greater than it’s legal reach – using confusion and rhetoric to deter families from getting the care and resources they need to stay healthy and thrive. Make no mistake, this is an attack on the legal immigration process and the American dream by the Trump Administration.

“We’re calling on Congress to take immediate action – implement legislation that makes it clear to the administration that a century-long interpretation of enacted law should not be reversed through agency action, especially not to establish wealth tests that carry out an anti-immigrant agenda,” the statement continued.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.