Coming to America? Plan to stay? Well, make sure you aren’t using too much federal assistance or your application for a green card may just be turned down. In an effort to curb some of the millions of dollars spent on welfare, food stamps, and other federally funded programs, the Trump administration on Aug. 12 announced an update to the 1999 public charge rule that will reduce the number of permanent residencies approved for those who have a history of receiving benefits.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), said:
“The principle driving it is an old American value, and that’s self-sufficiency. It’s a core principle — the American Dream itself — and it’s one of the things that distinguishes us, and it’s central to the legal history in the US back into the 1800s.”
President Donald Trump has made it clear that he plans to follow through with his campaign promise to crack down on illegal immigration. While this new legislation doesn’t necessarily target those here illegally, it is aimed at immigrants who are not self-sustaining and are a financial burden on society.
“It will also have the long-term benefit of protecting taxpayers by ensuring people who are immigrating to this country don’t become public burdens, that they can stand on their own two feet, as immigrants in years past have done,” Cuccinelli said. “It’s not only a recipe for their success, but for America’s success growing out of our immigration system.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was less than enthused with the new plan and threatened to take the Trump administration to court.
“The president is launching a direct assault on our immigrant brothers and sisters. The America we know was built by hardworking dreamers from all over the world. That’s the America we’re fighting to protect. To our immigrant New Yorkers: We stand with you now and always. To our president: We’ll see you in court.”
But are these new measures really an assault on immigrants? As USCIS said in a press release, this “final rule clearly defines long-standing law to better ensure that aliens seeking to enter and remain in the United States — either temporarily or permanently — are self-sufficient and rely on their own capabilities and the resources of family members, sponsors, and private organizations rather than on public resources.”
This does not mean that all immigrants who seek financial assistance will be denied a green card. The USCIS decides on a case-by-case basis, looking at applicants and how often they’ve used services such as Section 8 housing, Medicaid, cash assistance, and other programs in a 12-month period.
Cuccinelli stressed that just being “poor” will not lead to denial and that there are other exemptions for the updated public charge rule. Humanitarian-based programs for refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking and domestic violence will not be affected. “Under our final rule,” an official from the USCIS explained, “a public charge is defined as an alien who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.”
Public resources and federal financial assistance support a large portion of the immigrant population. According to the Center for Immigration Studies:
- In 2014, 63% of households headed by a non-citizen reported that they used at least one welfare program, compared to 35% of native-headed households.
- Compared to native households, non-citizen households have much higher use of food programs (45% vs. 21% for natives) and Medicaid (50% vs. 23% for natives).
- Including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), 31% of non-citizen-headed households receive cash welfare, compared to 19% of native households. If the EITC is not included, then cash receipt by non-citizen households is slightly lower than natives (6% vs. 8%).
- Welfare use tends to be high for both newer arrivals and long-time residents. Of households headed by non-citizens in the United States for fewer than ten years, 50% use one or more welfare programs; for those here more than ten years, the rate is 70%.
- Welfare receipt by working households is very common. Of non-citizen households receiving welfare, 93% have at least one worker, as do 76% of native households receiving welfare. In fact, non-citizen households are more likely overall to have a worker than are native households.
The updated rule will apply only to applicants who file after Oct. 15.