Trump administration tightens “public charge” rule

Today, the Trump administration released the final version of a rule that increases the government’s ability to deny green cards for people deemed likely to depend on government aid such as food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid. As Robert Verbruggen explains, federal law gives the executive branch lots of discretion to reject immigrants who are “likely at any time to become a public charge.” This approach is rooted in the common sense notion that immigrants should support themselves, not burden taxpayers. If they can’t support themselves, they should leave.

However, previous administrations nonsensically ignored major and growing programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance when deciding whether someone is likely to become a public charge. Immigrants could use these programs without reducing their chance of getting visas or green cards.

The new rule changes this. These programs will be included, as they should be, in determining whether an immigrant is a public charge.

The left, of course, is howling. However, the rule isn’t draconian. It applies to “an alien who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.” Receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months.

Thus, immigrants in dire straits can seek assistance of the types addressed in the new rule Their status will be in jeopardy only if they remain on it for a year or more, total, during a three-year period.

And even if they do, they won’t automatically be denied green cards. Other factors will be considered in assessing the likelihood that an immigrant who has used welfare extensively will be granted status.

In other words, the new rule calls for a “totality of the circumstances” analysis to applying the “public charge” label. Now, however, extensive use of major forms of welfare will be an important circumstance, as clearly it should be.

Verbruggen makes an interesting point. A side effect of the new rule is that the left has abandoned its talking point that immigrants don’t use welfare. It now touts a report by the pro-immigration Migration Policy Institute that 47 percent of immigrants use benefits the new rule might apply to.

If true, this finding seems like a good argument in favor of the new rule, not against it. I suspect that most American taxpayers will see it in that light.

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