The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Thursday issued its final order rescinding the Trump-era “public charge” rule that limited the benefits for immigrants who obtained public assistance benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.
The Biden administration reportedly stopped enforcing the rule within months after President Joe Biden took office.
“This action ensures fair and humane treatment of legal immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members,” said DHS Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “Consistent with America’s bedrock values, we will not penalize individuals for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”
The new rule is slated to go into effect on Dec. 23.
“Public charge” rules have been a concept in immigration law for decades, referring to someone who is considered likely to rely on welfare programs as a condition to deny someone permanent residency.
Under the Biden administration’s rule, green card applicants are only considered a public charge if “they are likely at any time to become primarily dependent on the government” for assistance. Homeland Security will not consider public charge determinations for family members of the applicant who are getting government assistance.
Immigrants can receive benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, as well as receive benefits provided by the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid, housing benefits, benefits related to immunizations or testing for communicable diseases, or any other supplemental or special-purpose benefits, according to DHS.
But the new rule will factor in a “noncitizen’s prior or current receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI); cash assistance for income maintenance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); State, Tribal, territorial, or local cash benefit programs for income maintenance (often called ‘General Assistance’); or long-term institutionalization at government expense” in considering whether the individual is a public charge, according to the DHS.
About 1.5 million households with at least one non-citizen member get food stamps, and another 1 million receive Medicaid benefits, according to the rule published Thursday.
The Trump administration rule had defined a public charge as an immigrant who gets one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months and within a 36-month period. Officials in the Trump White House said that their rule protected U.S. taxpayers from undue burdens caused by foreign nationals who couldn’t financially support themselves.
“The principle driving it is an old American value, and that’s self-sufficiency,” Ken Cuccinelli, the former acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), said in a 2019 interview with Fox News about the Trump rule. “No one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American,” he told NPR around the same time.
In June of this year, the Supreme Court dismissed a bid by Republican state officials to take over the legal defense of the public charge rule.
It came after an appeal by 13 Republican state attorneys general led by Arizona’s Mark Brnovich who sought to defend the rule in court after the Biden administration refused to do so. The state attorneys general had hoped to ask lower courts to throw out decisions that sided with various challengers to the rule, including a number of Democratic-led states.
Reuters contributed to this report.