Trump Administration Announces Final “Public Charge” Rule Which Can Materially Reduce Legal Immigration

Legal Immigration Reduced Materially by “Public Charge” Rule
Written by: Taher Kameli, Esq.

Much has been written about the impact of the anti-immigration policies of the Trump administration regarding undocumented immigrants.  However, it appears that the Trump administration is now seeking also to attack legal immigration. On August 12, the Trump administration announced a final “public charge” rule which can materially reduce legal immigration.

Finalizing proposed regulations that were issued on October 10, 2018 (and received more than 260,000 public comments), this final “public charge” rule (published in the Federal Register on August 14) amends U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations concerning how DHS will determine whether an immigrant is inadmissible to the United States based on his or her likelihood of becoming a “public charge” at any time in the future. 

Under the rule, DHS will now consider more kinds of “public benefits” received as relevant in determining “public charge” status; specifically, the term, “public benefits”, will include any cash benefits for income maintenance, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), most forms of Medicaid, and certain housing programs.

In addition, under the rule, DHS will now define the term, “public charge”, to mean an individual who receives one or more designated “public benefits” for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period (with receipt of 2 “public benefits” in one month counting as 2 months). 

The bottom-line of the rule (and what was undoubtedly intended by the Trump administration) is that it will materially reduce legal immigration (green cards) in the United States by persons who are poor and/or would receive government benefits both as the government applies the terms of the rule and as such persons are even discouraged from attempting to immigrate to the United States because of the rule.   

In announcing the final “public charge” rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli stated, “For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation’s immigration laws.  President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years. . . . Throughout our history, self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream.  Self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of hardworking immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States ever since.

Through the enforcement of the public charge inadmissibility law, we will promote these long-standing ideals and immigrant success”.  

The final “public charge” rule was roundly criticized by pro-immigration groups.  Charles Wheeler, of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., stated, “The Trump administration is trying to bypass Congress and implement its own merit based-immigration system.  It’s really a backdoor way of prohibiting low-income people from immigrating”.

Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless, a pro-migrant group, stated, “This is an end run around Congress to achieve through executive fiat what the administration cannot get through Congress”.  Philip E. Wolgin, managing director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, stated, “This rule prioritizes money over family and tells immigrants that if they want to achieve the American dream, they’d better do it before they get here”.  

3 different lawsuits (one by 2 counties in California, one by the states of Washington, Virginia, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island, and one by the states of California, Maine, Oregon, and Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia) were quickly filed, and additional litigation has been threatened (including by the state of New York, and immigration advocacy groups), to challenge the final “public charge” rule.      

The final “public charge” rule is due to take effect on October 15, 2019.  Subject to litigation challenging the rule (including as described above, which, of course, may or may not be successful), there can be no doubt that if you are poor and/or would receive government benefits, it will be harder to receive a green card after October 15, 2019. 

Thus, if you are considering applying for a green card and could be adversely affected by the rule, you should file your green card application before October 15, 2019. Immigrants need to retain a skilled immigration attorney, such as the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, which has successfully obtained green cards for immigrants for many years, to have the best chance of being successful with their green card application.  If you need help with your green card application (or otherwise with any aspect of the rule) or with any other immigration issue, please contact the Law Offices of Kameli and Associates, at taher@kameli.com or 312-233-1000, for representation.