Trump Admin Aims to Make Immigrants More ‘Self-Sufficient’: 5 Things to Know About the New Rule

Leah Millis/Reuters

President Donald Trump announced that U.S. immigration officials will start to consider the “public charge” of an immigrant when considering their ability to stay in the United States.

A “public charge” a consideration about an immigrant’s dependency on certain social welfare programs at a cost to the American taxpayer.

Because the Trump administration wants immigrants to be “self-sufficient,” it announced a final rule that requires immigration officials to consider dependency on welfare when deciding whether the immigrant can remain in the U.S.

Trump’s decision has been lauded by Republicans and called “bigoted” by Democrats. Here are five things to know about the new rule:

Trump’s new rule isn’t actually new.

Consideration of the “public charge” of an immigrant has been part of the immigration system for more than 100 years. The consideration gained some teeth when President Bill Clinton signed two bills in 1996, Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

Both of these bills formally directed immigration officials to consider welfare dependency when reviewing an immigrant’s temporary or permanent status in the U.S.

As the White House noted in its announcement, 73 percent of Americans favor a self-sufficiency requirement for immigrants.

While there was a historical precedent and support for such a rule, the Obama administration halted the practice of considering the “public charge” of immigrants. Trump’s ruling reinstates the enforcement of the laws passed under Clinton.

The Trump administration’s rule sets up a timeframe for “public charge” to be considered.

“The final rule considers an alien a public charge if he or she receives public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate in any 36-month period, such that the receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months.”

In other words, an immigrant will be considered a public charge if he or she collects benefits from 12 or more public programs within a three year period.

There are exceptions to the rule.

While the new rule considers whether immigrants are dependent on programs like Medicaid and unemployment, it holds exemptions for extreme circumstances.

According to the Clinton-era laws, “refugees, asylees, Afghans and Iraqis with special immigrant visas, and certain nonimmigrant trafficking and crime victims, individuals applying under the Violence Against Women Act, special immigrant juveniles, or to those who DHS has granted a waiver of public charge inadmissibility” will be exempt from the “public charge” consideration.

The Trump administration also exempted those who are serving in the U.S. military or reserves, along with their family members. The rule also does not consider the welfare programs utilized by children of immigrants. Additionally, the rule provides an exemption for emergency medical care and pregnant women, as well. Other exempt social welfare programs are natural disaster relief, food pantries, school lunch programs, foster care, and Head Start.

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

No public assistance required by any of the protected classes of people will be considered in the immigrant’s ability to remain in the United States. The change also only impacts those who filed for immigration on or after October 15, 2019.

It is also important to note that this rule only changes what is considered by immigration officials when working on a case. There is no instant status revocation if someone overuses public assistance, rather it will be part of the consideration of “the totality of the circumstances” by the caseworker. Exemptions will likely be made for unlisted circumstances.

This change will impact a lot of people.

According to the White House, 78% of immigrant households without a college degree are dependent on at least one social welfare program. For all immigrant families, 58 percent use at least one welfare program. Fifty percent of immigrant households have one person or more that is dependent on Medicaid for their health insurance.

For comparison, around 21% of U.S. citizens are on at least one government welfare program and 24% used Medicaid.

That means nearly half of the new immigrants could be impacted by the rule change.

On the other side of the coin, the White House argues that American citizens will benefit from the rule change due to fewer resources going to immigrant families that can instead be spent elsewhere.

“Large numbers of non-citizens and their families have taken advantage of our generous public benefits, limited resources that could otherwise go to vulnerable Americans,” the White House wrote.

It is unclear how much money the rule change will save.

Most Republicans love the decision.

Many Republicans have spoken out in support of President Trump’s decision. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told IJR that, as the son of an immigrant, he understands how important it is to be self-sufficient.

“Immigrants should come for jobs, not welfare, and legal immigration should benefit economic growth for all Americans,” Cruz said.

Border Patrol officials have also commended Trump’s decision. National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd spoke out in support for the measure.

“You should not come to the United States as an immigrant and be a burden on the taxpaying system,” Judd told Fox News. “And that’s how it was under the Clinton administration. That’s how it was under the Bush administration. And then it all changed under the Obama administration. We relaxed all of the rules, and that’s one of the things that spurs illegal immigration is when we don’t enforce the current laws that are on the books.”

Most Democrats hate it.

While Republicans are on board, Democrats see the ruling as racially motivated and anti-immigrant.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went as far as calling the rule “bigoted” and announced that Democrats would be taking the battle to court.

Additionally, two counties in California have announced that they will be suing the Trump administration over the rule, as well.

It remains unclear how the courts will respond.

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