The Trump administration on Saturday, September 22nd, has proposed a rule that immigrants who are in the United States legally, as well as those wanting to come to the country, may be denied visas or green cards if they have ever used public assistance.
Current U.S. immigration laws limit those who are likely to be dependent on financial aid. That ruling, known as a “public charge,” began in the 1800s as a way to deny immigrants entry to the United States if they were likely to become a drain on the economy.
The proposed policy, for the first time, also increases the financial levels applicants must meet in order to be eligible for a green card. Currently, sponsors of applicants must show that they meet 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. But the proposed rule could set this income threshold as high as 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, about $52,000 annually for a couple with one child.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the department is welcoming public comment on the proposal.
“This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers,” Nielsen said in a statement.
Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, told the media that the proposed measure would significantly impact the Indian American community. “The rule forces families to choose between a path toward permanent residency and citizenship and the receipt of public benefits. It essentially punishes immigrants seeking to feed their children or seek necessary health care,” said Kulkarni, a veteran immigrant rights advocate.
“This newest iteration of public charge by the Trump administration is cruel and inhumane and follows a long line of policies — in just 18 months — that separate families and vilify immigrants. It’s time that Indian Americans, U.S. citizens and immigrants, stand up with other immigrant communities to fight these unjust and un-American policies,” stated Kulkarni.
Marielena Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center said how a person contributes to their community, not the contents of their wallet, should be what matters the most.
“This proposed rule does the opposite, and makes clear that the Trump administration continues to prioritize money over family unity by ensuring that only the wealthiest can afford to build a future in this country,” Hincapie said.
Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, said in a press statement: “This Administration chooses to punish immigrant families over and over again. This policy is about who this Administration considers a desirable immigrant. It is designed to instill fear in immigrant communities of color and relegate non-citizens and their families to second-class status,” she stated.
The Migration Policy Institute, which used immigration data culled from the years 2014 to 2016, said India was the top country of origin for legal non-citizens, with about 550,000 currently residing in the U.S. Two-thirds of Indian Americans who received their green cards during that period did so through family-based migration.
The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum noted that the proposed rule would unfairly impact children. “We are concerned that the proposed rule change will have far-reaching consequences and discourage immigrants and their families from participating in public programs such as some forms of Medicaid, Medicare Part D, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and housing assistance, even if they are eligible, by threatening their immigration status if they use such programs,” noted the organization in a press statement. “These changes are meant to punish immigrants whom the Trump Administration believes are not deserving to stay in the United States.”
About 137,000 – 25 percent – had incomes below 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines, and would potentially have been denied green cards if the proposed new guidelines were in place. The proposed rule was expected to be entered into the Federal Register Sept. 24, and will be open for public comment for 60 days.
The announcement from DHS codified the types of benefits that could be considered for denying a visa application under the public charge rule. These include:
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly known as “welfare”
State and local cash assistance, sometimes called “General Assistance”
Medicaid or other programs supporting long-term institutionalized care, such as in a nursing home or mental health institution
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “Food Stamps”
Section 8 housing and rental assistance
Nonemergency Medicaid benefits (with other exclusions for children and the disabled)
Healthcare subsidies through Medicare Part D
Federal housing subsidies