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Public Charge Rule Forces Impossible Choice for Young Immigrants

Earlier today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a final rule that makes drastic changes to the system used to determine legal permanent residence (LPR) eligibility. The rule significantly broadens the criteria under which a legal immigrant applying for a green card or looking to extend their visa would be considered a “public charge,” a test to determine whether an individual applying for LPR status is likely to depend on government assistance as a primary source of income. 

The rule creates a series of weighted positive and negative factors that determine if a green card applicant is or could become reliant on public benefits. This means that many rejected applicants will have never received any actual public benefits, but have been denied simply because the government predicted they may do so in the future. As a result, more people who are otherwise eligible will be denied LPR status or considered for deportation. 

For decades, the designation of “public charge” has been strictly limited to direct cash assistance from the federal government. The new rule expands the criteria to include programs that low-income immigrants can currently access legally while on the path to both permanent residence and financial stability, including assistance accessing health care through Medicaid, nutrition through SNAP, and housing through Section 8 vouchers. 

In response to the rule announcement, Erin Hemlin, Director of Health Policy and Advocacy at Young Invincibles, issued the following statement: 

“Let’s call this rule what it is: a thinly veiled attempt to stratify immigration along income lines and to dissuade low-income and disproportionately black and brown immigrants from using financial assistance programs that they are legally eligible for. The Trump Administration does not believe that everyone deserves quality, affordable health care, regardless of income, race, or immigration status — but young people do.  

This isn’t a theoretical argument for the most diverse generation in history. We’ve already seen a chilling effect take hold, with one in seven adults in immigrant families reporting they avoided public benefits for fear of retribution. The country has heard the story of a father who stopped using food stamps for his four young children because he was afraid it would mean the children’s mother would be denied her visa. This decision will have real, devastating impacts on communities across the country. 

To codify these impossible choices for our immigrant brothers and sisters under the guise of self-sufficiency is callous, fiscally irresponsible, and will harm the health of our entire nation. Young people will fight back against such efforts every time.”