Finalized rule aims to keep families separated by slashing legal immigration and holding immigrants to a wealth test

RALEIGH (August 14, 2019) – This morning the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published its finalized “public charge” rule in the Federal Register, which penalizes immigrants with low incomes and forces them to choose between services they need and keeping their families together.

The final rule puts admissions to the U.S. or applications for a “green card” at risk if the immigrant seeking a change in their status receives non-emergency Medicaid (except if they are pregnant or a child under 21), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “Food Stamps”) benefits, and “Section 8” rent vouchers, in addition to cash benefits included in the current public charge rule in effect, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Furthermore, the rule emphasizes that use of benefits for more than 12 months within any 3-year period – where receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months, for example – will be counted negatively against an immigrant, a standard stricter than what is currently applied. It is worth noting that the vast majority of individuals who obtain a green card in the U.S. or obtain legal permanent residency through an immigrant visa are not eligible for these benefits.

The final rule contains several improvements over the proposed rule that was published last year. Notably, the rule excludes from consideration use of Medicaid by pregnant women and children under the age of 21. This will allow many lawfully present immigrants in critical need of those benefits to continue using them without fear that it will impact a green card application. The rule also removes several benefit programs that used to be included in the published rule – under the final rule, eligible immigrants can continue to use Medicare Part D and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) without concern that it will affect a future green card application. Many other critical benefit programs have been excluded from consideration in all versions of the rule, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition assistance, free and reduced price school lunch, and more; eligible immigrants can use them without effect on a green card application.

Of critical importance, the final rule makes very clear that it does not apply to use of public benefits by an immigrants’ U.S. citizen children or family members. They can continue to use benefits as needed without any impact on their parent’s application for lawful status.

Under the new rule, however, immigrants can be penalized just for having an income below 125 percent of the federal poverty line, giving discretion to the Trump Administration to deny admission to immigrants living below the poverty line. The rule makes it clear that there will be broader, additional scrutiny of an immigrant’s economic situation, considering their credit history and scores and work history. People with medical conditions or who lack proficiency in English (which was previously only considered at the citizenship stage) will also be viewed negatively under the proposed rule. Even if an immigrant or their family members have never accessed a single benefit, they can still have their green card application rejected based simply on the fact that they live in or close to poverty.

This is the Trump administration’s latest example of their overall message: people of color need not apply for entry into the United States.

“The impact would fall inevitably and overwhelmingly on people of color, especially U.S. citizens and permanent residents sponsoring family members,” said Kate Woomer-Deters, Senior Staff Attorney with the NC Justice Center’s Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project. “It could also affect those such as DACA holders, elderly parents, and others who may be denied an opportunity to obtain permanent status through their family members, if they cannot meet the heightened income criteria.”

There are some additional improvements in the final rule as compared to the previous version. In addition to the retreat from earlier, even more punitive rules around public benefit use, the rule now carves out an exemption for caregivers – who were not recognized for their critical work in earlier drafts. The final rule recognizes that caregivers make important contributions to society even if they don’t work outside the home, and does not penalize them for failing to have a work history in the U.S as previous iterations of the rule did.

“It’s important for families to know that U.S. citizen children are not affected by the published public charge rule, nor are refugees, asylees, and current green card holders,” said Woomer-Deters. “However, we cannot ignore that the published rule remains an extension of the Trump Administration’s anti-immigrant, anti-working family policies that seek to tear families apart. Even with its improvements, this administration has made clear they wish to dismantle the family-based immigration system as a whole and keep individuals from nations they deem unworthy from entering the U.S. and reuniting with their families.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT Kate Woomer-Deters, Senior Attorney with the NC Justice Center’s Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project,, 919-861-2072; Alexandra Sirota, Director of the NC Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center,, 919-861-1468; Julia Hawes, Director of Communications,