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Immigration 101: What is “Public Charge” and What Changes is the Trump Administration is Proposing?

Magazine, Immigration, America’s Voice, by Zachary Mueller

The Trump Administration is seeking to dramatically limit the ability of working-class immigrants to enter the U.S. and hamper their ability to remain, by making it easier to bar immigrants from the U.S. if they are likely to need help. The proposed “public charge” change could prohibit immigrants from obtaining permanent residency or from entering the country if they make less than $73,550 for a family of five.

This move is just one part of the Administration’s systemic restructuring of the U.S. immigration system into a crueler and more restrictionist version. Since its inception, the Trump Administration has gutted temporary protected status (TPS), drastically lowered refugee numbers, and limited asylum claims for victims of domestic and gang violence — all of which are policies seeking to radically limit the numbers of immigrants entering the country, and all of which turn our backs on some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable migrants.
What is “public charge”?

“Public charge” is a designation referring to an individual who primarily relays on governmental cash assistance for their day-to-day expenses or who is likely to in the future. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), makes the “public charge” determination, which makes an immigrant inadmissible to the U.S. or ineligible to become a lawful permanent resident.

Having received cash benefits in the past can be a factor in the government’s decision, but it cannot be the sole factor. No one single factor determines whether USCIS will deem someone a “public charge.” Many factors like an individual’s age, health, income, family size, education, and skills are weighed to determine if an immigrant will be deemed a public charge.

While a version of “public charge” has been around since colonial times, the designation has historically had narrow and fluctuating outlines, and more detailed guidelines were not outlined until the early 1990s. Those guidelines limited the “public charge” designation mostly to individuals who received more than 50 percent of their income from cash assistance programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Non-cash benefits, like food stamps, energy assistance, or Medicaid are not calculated as part of the monetary threshold for a ‘“public charge” determination.

Are there exemptions to a “public charge” designation?
Yes, some groups are not affected by “public charge” including: refugees, asylees, survivors of trafficking, survivors of domestic violence or other crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders), Violence Against Women Act self-petitioners, special immigrant juveniles, and certain other immigrants.

What are the changes the Trump Administration is proposing?

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