Administration Unveils New Rule Barring Immigrants Seeking Green Card from Receiving Public Benefits

Melanie Arter | August 12, 2019 | 1:12pm EDT
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(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

( - U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli announced Monday that the Trump administration is defining the term "public charge" as it applies to immigrants for the first time, making it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public services to get a green card.

“Since 1996, the law has required foreign nationals to rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, sponsors, and private organizations in their communities to succeed," said Cuccinelli at the White House.


"However, Congress has never defined the term public charge in the law, and that term hadn’t been clearly defined by regulation," he said.  "That is what changes today with this rule."

“Through the public charge rule, President Trump’s administration is re-enforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America,” the acting director said.



“Under the rule, a public charge is now defined as an individual who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period. For instance, receipt of two different benefits in one month counts and two months,” he said, adding that immigration officials will look at whether an immigrant “is likely at any point in the future to become a public charge as we define it in the regulation.”

“Public benefits are defined as federal, state, and local as well as tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, and a small list of non-cash benefits. Some examples of the public benefits that are part of the rule are: general assistance, SSI, SNAP, most forms of Medicaid, and certain subsidized housing programs,” Cuccinelli noted.

Exempt from the public charge rule are “many forms of government assistance that protect children and pregnant women’s health as public benefits.”

That includes emergency medical assistance, disaster relief, national school lunch programs, WIC, CHIP, Medicaid received by people under the age of 21 or pregnant women as well as foster care and adoption subsidies, student and mortgage loans, energy assistance, food pantries, homeless shelters, and Headstart.

Refugees, asylees, trafficking victims, and victims of domestic violence are all exempt from the public charge rule, Cuccinelli noted.

“Under this final rule, USCIS will be able to objectively determine whether an applicant is likely at any time in the future to receive public benefits above the designated threshold. Importantly, this final rule has no impact on humanitarian-based immigration programs for refugees and asylees, and it clarifies the exemption for trafficking victims and victims of domestic violence,” he said.

Furthermore, certain members of the military and their spouses and children are excluded from the public charge rule.

“Congress has long carved out exemptions for these categories, and our regulation adheres strictly to the laws as written. The final rule also excludes from consideration public benefits received by certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children as well as Medicaid benefits for emergency medical services,” Cuccinelli said.

“Lastly, under the final rule, USCIS can permit an applicant seeking a green card from inside the United States whose inadmissible only on the public charge ground to adjust their status to that of a legal permanent resident if they will post a public charge bond,” he said.

Current law requires immigrants seeking a green card to have a sponsor who will be financially responsible for them, said Cuccinelli, who told the story of his own family’s immigrant roots and how his Italian grandfather sponsored members of his extended family.

“In the case of my own family, my Italian grandfather played this role, sponsoring two of his cousins - Mario and Silvio - to come to America. Once they arrived, my grandfather wanted to make sure his cousins spoke English, certainly well enough to work and enlisted my father in that effort as well to make sure they spoke English well enough to work, and they did. My family worked together to ensure that they could provide for their own needs, and they never expected the government to do it for them,” he said.


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