DHS Plans to Penalize Immigrants Using Public Benefits

By Reuben Seguritan


September 19, 2018


Noncitizen immigrants are entitled to certain government public assistance programs. Examples of these are public benefits from the Social Security Insurance (SSI), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Other public assistance may come in the form of a housing subsidy, transportation subsidy and Medicaid for health care.


The Trump Administration has recently announced plans to adopt a rule which states that noncitizens in the US, whether legal or illegal immigrants, can be denied green cards and US citizenship if they have used any public assistance program or benefit in the past. If the rule is approved, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can deny applications for permanent residence and citizenship and deem the applicant inadmissible on the ground that the applicant is or likely to become a public charge. The rule adds that it would only apply to individuals who utilized public programs on or after the date the rule becomes effective.


According to the USCIS, public charge means “an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.”


A number of factors must be considered when making a determination that a person is likely to become a public charge. These factors are the applicant’s age, health, family status, assets, resources and financial status, education, skills and the Affidavit of Support included in the application.


Under the current law, the denial of the application on the finding of likelihood of becoming a public charge does not apply to applicants for naturalization and VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) self-petitioners and their dependent children. Short-term institutionalization for rehabilitation is also not subject to public charge consideration under existing field guidelines.


The proposed rule is redefining and expanding the definition of the term “public charge” in order for more immigrants, both legal and illegal to be found inadmissible and therefore cannot be granted green cards and citizenship. The mere fact that an immigrant has utilized any public assistance program could be a ground for denial of his application. The government justified this proposed rule by stating that immigrants are draining the American taxpayer’s money and at the same time immigrants are not working and contributing to society. Immigrants have been painted by the administration as people who do not work and use public funds for all of their needs and hence make the taxes go higher for the working Americans. For the immigrants who do work, they are accused of taking away jobs from Americans and making wages lower for Americans because immigrants are willing to accept lower wages. The government also stated that this proposed rule shows how careful and thoughtful it is in spending the taxpayer’s money. This rule also aims to prevent the fraud that immigrants have allegedly perpetrated for years by not working and availing of public benefit programs.


There are studies which show that increased legal immigration has led to higher wages, increased productivity and lowered the prices of some goods and services. However, it is unlikely that the Administration and its conservative supporters would believe in these studies. In fact a Homeland Security Department official has said that more than half of all immigrant households have used and continue to use one or more welfare programs. This clearly shows that the Trump administration considers providing benefits to immigrants as a bane to the US and a drain to the economy.


The news of this change is consistent with the Trump administration’s anti-immigrants campaign. The administration is determined to revoke as many applications as possible and prevent immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and workers from entering and staying in the US. This rule has the effect of making immigrants not avail of public programs which they may be entitled to out of fear that they might be denied green cards and citizenship in the future.