“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet.”
It’s a new Trump twist on the quote that’s welcomed millions of immigrants to America.
Trump’s version of the so-called “public charge” requires immigration officers to determine whether an immigrant applying to enter the US, extend their visa, or convert their temporary immigration status into a green card is likely to end up relying on public benefits in the future. The rules, published in August by the Department of Homeland Security, went into effect on Feb. 24.
For about four months, federal judges prevented the rule from being implemented while lawsuits challenging it made their way through the courts. Opponents of the rule, including the state of New York and immigrant advocacy groups, had argued that the rule flouts the narrow definition of what it means to be a “public charge” under federal immigration law.
But rather than waiting for those courts to issue final rulings, President Donald Trump asked the Supreme Court in January to intervene — a once-rare occurrence that has become standard practice under this administration — and to allow the rule to go into effect. The US Supreme Court’s conservative majority gave it the green light later that month without explaining their reasoning.
Trump has justified the rule as a means of ensuring that immigrants are “financially self-sufficient” and has argued it will “protect benefits for American citizens.”
“I am tired of seeing our taxpayers paying for people to come into the country and immediately go onto welfare and various other things,” Trump said when announcing the rule. “So I think we’re doing it right.”
The ‘Public Charge’ Rule, Explained
The US has been able to reject prospective immigrants who are likely to become a “public charge” — dependent on the government for support — since 1882, but since World War II, few immigrants were turned away using that criteria. In 1999, the Clinton administration issued guidance that said only cash benefits, which very few immigrants use, would be considered in making the determination.
The Trump administration is defining “public charge” much more broadly, giving Immigration officials more leeway to turn away those who are “likely to be a public charge” based on an evaluation of 20 factors, ranging from the use of certain public benefits programs — including food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Medicaid — to English language proficiency.
The rule gives individual, low-level officials much more vetting power than they have had previously, and injects a lot of uncertainty into the green card process.
Many immigrants aren’t eligible for public benefits unless they have green cards or certain humanitarian protections — and not all public benefits are available to noncitizens. In the majority of cases, the best advice for immigrants is to keep using the programs to which they’re entitled because they won’t be penalized for doing so under the rule, Doug Rand, a former White House official who worked on immigration policy in the Obama administration, said.
The rule, which has been anticipated for more than a year, has had a chilling effect already: Noncitizens have been needlessly dropping their public benefits out of fear that they will face immigration consequences. By the time the rule went into effect on March 1, it had, in that sense, already succeeded.