New Public The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the final version of its new “public charge” regulation on Monday morning. The rule would make it easier for the government to deny a green card or visa to immigrants it believes are likely to receive certain public benefits in the future. This would make it significantly harder for immigrants who aren’t already successful to come to the United States.
Speaking to NPR on Tuesday morning, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli rejected criticism of the rule. He claimed that Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty should actually be read to say, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
Under current law, immigrants applying for admission to the United States or those already here and seeking a green card must prove they are not “likely to become a public charge.” Since 1999, this has required immigrants to prove that they will not become “primarily dependent” on certain cash welfare programs.
The new rule, which goes into effect in mid-October, adds food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing to the list of public benefits that can lead to someone being deemed a public charge.
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It also removes the requirement that someone become “primarily dependent” on benefits. Instead, the agency can deem someone a public charge if they use any of those benefits for 12 months out of a 36-month period.
If someone uses two or more benefits in a single month, each benefit counts separately. This means someone enrolled in both food stamps and Medicaid would be declared a public charge after six months of use instead of 12.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, nearly half of all new immigrants are at risk of visa denial under the new rule. Even spouses of U.S. citizens will have to prove they won’t ever rely on public benefits or be barred from entry. As many as 200,000 immigrant spouses could be at risk of being denied a green card under the new rules.
The full impact of the rules isn’t clear yet, but it’s easy to see the direction this is heading.
A similar change made last year at the State Department to tighten public charge rules has already had a significant effect. In the first ten months of the fiscal year 2019, a total of 5,343 Mexicans were denied visas on public charge grounds. The State Department only denied seven visas in the entirety of the fiscal year 2016.
As a result of this change, we will likely see fewer green cards issued for immigrants from countries President Trump has frequently attacked. Low-income immigrants will be at high risk of being denied entry under the new rule.
The rule provides that individuals who earn more than 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines will generally pass the test. But those who earn less than that amount—hundreds of thousands of intending immigrants each year—would be forced to prove a negative.
The new rule doesn’t apply to some individuals who are exempt from public charge rules by law. This includes refugees and other beneficiaries of humanitarian programs. The rule also exempts benefits used by U.S. citizen children. In addition, benefits used before the rule goes into effect will not lead to someone being deemed a public charge automatically.
America has long been a country that provided an opportunity for the tired, the poor, and the hungry to pursue their dreams. But Monday’s new public charge rule would impose a wealth test that would lock many legal immigrants out.
This country was built by those who came here with a strong desire to work hard and build a brighter future. This new rule undermines that tradition.