The Trump administration takes the next step in its bid to restrict new Green Cards for public aid recipients


President Trump continues to seek to limit “green cards” (or “legal permanent resident” status) approvals by levying more rules targeting those that have received public assistance. The proposal, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charges Grounds,” was posted on the DHS website on September 22nd and designates noncash public aid for even the most basic of needs, such as food, shelter, and medicine, as “heavily weighed negative factors.” You can see the full posting here:

USCIS already has rules requiring thorough background checks on recipients of public cash assistance to ensure against immigrants becoming a public charge. This has always been a part of the approval process in granting green cards. However, the Trump administration, with Stephen Miller leading the charge, is making a concerted effort to penalize those who receive many types of noncash public aid such as housing assistance through Section 8, food stamps, and even medicinal care for the elderly through Medicare Part D. The proposal also includes language that would weigh against immigrants with “mental health disorders, heart disease, and cancer,” and receiving Medicaid may be a disqualifying factor. Exemptions extend to households receiving benefits totaling less than 15% of the federal poverty guidelines. Also excluded are legal immigrants serving in the U.S. armed forces, refugees, asylum seekers, and apparently most immigrants who already have a green card.

Nevertheless, it is clear President Trump is setting up roadblocks to deny hundreds of thousands of immigrants with legal status their pathway to obtaining a green card, the key step before ultimately applying for citizenship. Even though this proposal is not yet policy, its repercussions are already leading immigrants to pull out of these programs or to not apply for them in fear that this will jeopardize their hope of getting a green card. Immigration advocates are intensely worried that these numbers will grow exponentially if this proposal becomes policy. And to be frank, many believe that is precisely this administration’s goal.

The following is a list of key changes in the proposal:

  1. It will only affect those who are submitting or will submit an application for a green card in the US. By federal statute, it will not affect those gaining their residency through VAWA, U-Visa, refugee status  or asylum.

  2. It will not affect naturalization (citizenship), removals (deportations), or the ability to apply for DACA.

  3. In addition to simple cash benefits like TANF (welfare), USCIS will now also analyze: food (SNAP/FoodShare), shelter (Section 8), and medical assistance (Medicaid/BadgerCare).

  4. Certain benefits not included are: ACA subsidies (Affordable Care Act/Obamacare), EITC child tax credits, utility subsides, emergency medical care aid, WIC, and public school benefits such as school lunches and Head Start. Active military families will be excluded from scrutiny (e.g. Ready Reserves benefits).

  5. It has yet to be determined if CHIP will be included. This decision is part of the ongoing 60-day public discussion period.

  6. It is not retroactive, meaning that benefits received before the effective date of this change will not be grounds for penalization unless those benefits were cash (TANF) ones.

  7. An immigrant whose household/family has received benefits that are deemed ‘shared’ by DHS is now considered to have received a “proportional share,” even if the benefit wasn’t specifically granted to that immigrant. For example, SNAP benefits are considered equally divided among all family members, and so will weigh against a foreign national applying for immigration relief.

  8. A three-year “look back” period will be applied as follows: (1) if you receive any of the above-mentioned benefits within three years of your application for immigration relief, that period will be under the highest scrutiny, and (2) the years before that three-year period are still under consideration but are under less scrutiny.

  9. A small amount of benefits may be excluded from the analysis, which is less than 15% of the federal poverty guidelines for a household of one per 12-month period, which equates to roughly $1,800.

  10. The public charge analysis is discretionary and can be outweighed by other mitigative and positive factors such as English proficiency, advanced education, high income, strong employment history, good health, youth, history of timely bill payments, good credit, smaller household size, and sponsors and joint sponsors with significantly higher income.

  11. In turn, negative factors of consideration are as follows: poor English skills, lack of education, limited employment history, chronic health issues that limit employability, advanced age, larger household size, low credit scores, previous bankruptcy filing(s), and sponsors or joint sponsors whose income barely meets the requirement threshold. Credit reports will now be required.

The proposal is 447 pages long and is obviously very complicated even to experts. We want to emphasize that this proposal is not currently policy, as it must go through a 60-day public comment period before final rules are implemented. We encourage all immigrants who are now or may one day be seeking a Green Card to consult an attorney before withdrawing from any public aid programs. You may contact our office at 414-533-5000 and we will be happy to help.

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