DHS Proposed Rule Would Deny Green Cards to Many Low Income Immigrants

united-states-flag-1423259-300x223On September 22, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), announced a proposed rule that would deny green cards to almost all immigrants who accept public benefits while in the United States. The public will have 60 days to provide comments on the proposed rule. After the sixty day comment period is over, the final rule will be published, and will go into effect 60 days later.

Starting with the Immigration Act of 1882, the United States has had a policy of denying green cards to potential immigrants who are likely to become “public charges”. Under current law (INA § 212(a)(4)), any immigrant who is “likely at any time to become a public charge”, is inadmissible to the United States. In determining whether an individual is likely to become a public charge, USCIS and the U.S. Department of State, are supposed to examine the potential immigrant’s: (1) age; (2) health; (3) family status; (4) assets, resources, and financial status; and (5) education and skills.

Under the current rule dating back to 1999, immigrants who rely on certain public benefits are automatically deemed to be public charges, and therefore, inadmissible to the United States. Individuals are deemed to be public charges if two things are met. First, individuals must accept cash public benefits such as welfare. Under the current rule, public benefits that are not cash benefits such as food stamps and Medicare, do not make an individual inadmissible to the the United States. Second, the cash benefits an immigrant receives must account for 50% or more of the immigrant’s total income for the individual to be considered a public charge.

The new rule would significantly increase the types of public benefits that would make an individual inadmissible to the United States. Under the new rule, most non cash public benefits would make an individual inadmissible to the United States. Under the new rule, public benefits that would make an individual inadmissible include: 1) cash public assistance such as Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and State and local cash benefit programs; (2) The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps); (3) Section 8 public housing assistance; (4) Medicaid; (5) and subsidies for low income earners under Medicare Part D.

Because the new rule will dramatically expand the number of potential immigrants who may be barred from the United States, potential immigrants need to be very aware of the public benefits they accept in several ways. First, the proposed rule states that individuals will not be penalized for accepting non cash public benefits until the final rule goes into effect. Therefore, immigrants currently accepting non cash public benefits should take steps to end their acceptance of the benefits as soon as possible. Second, individuals who do are not currently accepting public benefits, but thinking of doing so, should contact an immigration attorney prior to accepting any new benefits to see if the benefits could affect their ability to get a green card.

The new proposed public benefits rule is an extremely complex rule, that can have grave consequences for immigrants. Hartzman Law Firm specializes in helping immigrants navigate the complexities of U.S. immigration law. If you or a family member have any questions or concerns about whether or not the new rule will negatively affect you, please email our law firm, or call us at (412) 495-9849.