NC Budget and Tax Center

Report: Most U.S. citizens would likely fail Trump administration’s “public charge” proposal for immigrants

A new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities describes the widespread harm that would be caused if the proposed rule released last year by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — that would substantially change the way some immigrants are assessed as a public charge — if it becomes a final rule. Specifically, the rule would negatively affect many immigrants’ ability to apply for admission to the United States or for current lawful immigrants to seek an extension of stay or change of status.

To illustrate the widespread harm the rule would impose, the report details the number of U.S. citizens that might be deemed a public charge if the rule applied to them, using data that captures public benefits use by U.S.-born citizens over a 19-year period. Researchers approximate that more than half of the U.S.-born population participates in a benefit program over the course of their lifetime that may result in them being deemed a public charge, if the proposed rule was applied to U.S.-born citizens.

In addition to observing the use of public benefits in public charge determinations, the proposed rule introduces an income test among other additional criteria for making an admissibility determination. If implemented, immigration officials would be asked to make a prediction as to whether an immigrant below 125 percent of the federal poverty level may, at some point in the future, use one or more public benefits, or otherwise become dependent on the government for support. This broadening would subject immigrants to the biases of immigration officials and, as the report describes, would have a racially disparate impact on the immigrants allowed in the United States.

Since the release of the proposed DHS rule — which received over 250,000 comments that are reportedly still under review — two additional proposed rules that would severely harm immigrant access to public benefits have either been proposed or may soon be proposed. Last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development released a proposed new rule that would prohibit “mixed-status” immigrant families from living together in public and other subsidized housing, a shift that would cause the eviction of more than 55,000 U.S.-citizen children, according to estimates. Under current law, ineligible immigrants are allowed to live in public housing with their eligible family members, but the ineligible family members must pay their portion of the rent without government financial support. The new proposal would force families to decide whether to split up and leave eligible family members in public housing, or to move out together, thus losing the critical support and stability that housing assistance can provide. The public comment period is still open on this rule until July 9.

In addition, news sources have reported that the Department of Justice (DOJ) plans to propose a rule that would result in deportation on public charge grounds, in addition to the inadmissibility rule that DHS has already proposed. Once issued, the proposed DOJ rule will require a public comment period, consideration of all comments, and notice prior to the rule taking effect.  It is not yet known how extensive the DOJ rule will be, and how it will affect immigrants such as green card holders who are eligible for many public benefit programs.

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