Wed. 8/14: Stop the “Public Charge” rule changes.

Action: Call your legislators to stop the Administrations cruel and unnecessary changes to the “Public Charge” rule.

It’s time to call in the Congressional Review Act – This action empowers Congress to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and overrule them with a joint resolution. Congress has 60 days to do this.

(From Indivisible SF): “For generations, the US government allowed people who immigrated to avail themselves of commonly-used anti-poverty programs to get a start in building a new life, keep their kids fed, and keep their families healthy without endangering their status. Now the Trump administration intends to deport hard-working taxpayers if they use government services. Despite overwhelmingly negative public comments, DHS has allowed their expanded “Public Charge” regulation to go into effect.

This is an unmistakably class-based attack on immigration, aimed at ensuring that America allows only wealthy people to enter or remain here. It ties in directly with racist ideas of white supremacy—particularly of immigrants being a drain on (white) society—espoused on Fox News and in recent mass shootings. This cruel reversal of “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” is in complete opposition to our most deeply held ideals. And Congress can put a stop to it with the Congressional Review Act.

Minimal script to federal legislators: I’m calling from [zip code] to urge Rep./Sen. [___] to invoke the Congressional Review Act to block implementation of the new DHS “Public Charge” immigration rule.

Minimal script to our Governor: I’m calling to urge Governor Newsom to take the strongest possible action to fight the public charge immigration rule changes and to act by executive order to ensure outreach and services continue to reach legal immigrants and their families awaiting processing in California.


Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26): email,DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24):
 email.  DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
and Senator Harris: email, DC (202) 224-3553, LA (213) 894-5000, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 355-9041, SD (619) 239-3884
Who is my representative/senator?: 
Governor Newsom: (916) 445-2841


History of the Public Charge rule:

  • 1882: A “Public Charge” law that was passed in 1882 which excluded from entry into the United States, quote, “any convict, lunatic, idiot or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” And that language has been a feature of federal immigration law ever since. But there’s a lot more to be said about that, largely because the federal law itself built upon centuries of practice at the state and local level…And it turns out that most communities were entirely supportive of European immigrants receiving welfare. “Unable to take care of oneself” was very flexible.  “When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis,” described a huge number of immigrants who were not only destitute, but starving as well.
  • This was different than the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This act halted all legal immigration of Chinese laborers and is considered by many to be the first major exclusionary immigration restriction on an entire nationality enacted by the United States.
  • 1891: (Wikipedia) The Immigration Act of 1891 continued this exclusion – “[T]he following classes of aliens shall be excluded from admission into the United States “… All idiots, insane persons, paupers or persons likely to become a public charge, persons suffering from a loathsome or a dangerous contagious disease, persons who have been convicted of a felony or other infamous crime or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude, polygamists…
  • 1903: Tthe Immigration Act of 1903 allowed the deportation of immigrants who became a public charge within their first two years in the country.
Embed from Getty Images
Immigrants to the United States on the deck of the SS Amerika, circa 1907. This image is from the archives of the United States Library of Congress. Please credit. (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images)
  • 1915: In Gegiow v. Uhl, the Supreme Court found that the public charge restriction applied exclusively to those immigrants who “by reason of poverty, insanity, disease or disability would become a charge upon the public.”
Embed from Getty Images
9/24/1920-New York, NY- Crowded to almost three times its capacity, the immigration station at Ellis Island has been closed temporarily until the congestion is relieved. Meanwhile, incoming immigrants are being held aboard the vessels on which they arrive. Hundreds of immigrant families are without sleeping quarters, and the station facilities are taxed to the utmost, caring for the rush from Europe. Photo shows a crowd of immigrants waiting for release.
  • 1952: The Immigration and Nationality Act (amended in 1965) declares “any alien likely at any time to become a public charge” as inadmissible to the country and those who have received public benefits within their first five years in the United States as deportable. It was rarely used to deport anyone. The term “public charge” appears in the Immigration and Nationality Act, but is not defined by the law.
  • 1996: Congress passed the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” which was a massive overhaul of the welfare system. Essentially, what the law provided was that most legal immigrants were going to be ineligible to receive a range of benefits for the first five years of U.S. residence. Many of those benefits were reinstated in 2002. Also what the new Trump rule is targeting is obviously things like Obamacare subsidies, which weren’t in existence in 1996.
  • Proposed 2019 Rule: On August 12, 2019, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) formally announced a new rule restricting poorer immigrants from attaining Lawful Permanent Resident status (Green Card). Under the rule, slated to take effect on October 15, 2019, legal immigrants who have received public benefits such as Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, and public housing assistance for more than a total of twelve months may be classified as a “public charge” ineligible for permanent residency. Refugees, asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, and family members of those serving in the Armed Forces are excluded from the restrictions. The Trump administration estimates that 58% of households headed by non-citizens use a public welfare program and half use Medicaid. The Migration Policy Institute estimated that half of all Green Card applicants would be excluded by the rule

What benefits immigrants can receive now?

(from report)

Are UNDOCUMENTED immigrants eligible for federal public benefit programs?

Generally no. Undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are ineligible to receive most federal public benefits, including means-tested benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, sometimes referred to as food stamps), regular Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and are prohibited from purchasing unsubsidized health coverage on ACA exchanges.

Undocumented immigrants may be eligible for a handful of benefits that are deemed necessary to protect life or guarantee safety in dire situations, such as emergency Medicaid, access to treatment in hospital emergency rooms, or access to healthcare and nutrition programs under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Are LEGAL immigrants eligible for federal public benefit programs?

Only those with lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, but not until they have resided as a legal resident for five years. LPRs – sometimes referred to as green card holders – do not have full access to all public benefit programs and are subject to limitations before being eligible for federal means-tested benefits, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), TANF, SNAP, and SSI. Such limitations include the “five-year bar,” which requires the individual to have maintained LPR status in the U.S. for five years before being eligible for benefits. However, under some federal benefit programs, this requirement can be bypassed when the recipient has worked 40 quarters under a visa. Quarters worked by parents when the immigrant was a dependent child, or by a spouse while married to the immigrant, count towards the immigrant’s 40 quarters.

LPRs are eligible to apply for Medicare and Public/“Section 8” Housing as well, as long as the five-year bar is fulfilled. For LPRs to become eligible for Social Security benefits for both retirement and disability, they are required to have completed 40 quarters of work in addition to having maintained LPR status for five years.

Certain additional categories of immigrants, specifically refugees, asylum seekers, and victims of human trafficking or domestic violence have the same eligibility requirements for federal benefits as LPRs. Individuals on non-immigrant and temporary visa holders are ineligible for benefits.

Are immigrants eligible for state benefit programs?

Twenty-six states make immigrants eligible for state-funded benefit programs. Most of these states either offer assistance to families or provide access to healthcare to otherwise uninsured immigrants. Examples of these programs are New York’s Safety Net Assistance, California’s CalFresh Food Assistance Program, and California’s Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI).

What is the protocol for “mixed-status families,” i.e., undocumented parents with citizen children?

Like any U.S.-born citizen, U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents can received federal benefits if they meet eligibility requirements without penalty. Similarly, the child’s eligibility does not change their parents’ or any other family members’ eligibility for that benefit.

How much do legal immigrants use federal public benefit programs?

Legal immigrants use federal public benefit programs at lower rates than U.S.-born citizens. As recently as 2013, the rate at which non-citizens have used public benefit programs was less than that of U.S.-born citizens. For example, 32.5 percent of native-born citizen adults receive SNAP benefits compared to 25.4 percent of naturalized citizen adults and 29 percent of noncitizen adults. In addition to immigrants’ lower rate of SNAP usage, they also receive lower benefit values, costing the program less.

How much do immigrants contribute to support public benefits programs?

Both documented and undocumented immigrants pay more into public benefit programs than they take out. According to Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants contribute an estimated $11.74 billion to state and local economies each year. However, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for many of the federal or state benefits that their tax dollars help fund.

Additionally, a few states have completed studies demonstrating that immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government services and benefits. A study in Arizona found that the state’s immigrants generate $2.4 billion in tax revenue per year, which more than offsets the $1.4 billion in their use of benefit programs. Another study in Florida estimated that, on a per capita basis, immigrants in the state pay nearly $1,500 more in taxes per capita than they receive in public benefits.

Do undocumented children have access to a public education?

Yes. In accordance with the Supreme Court ruling in Plyer v. Doe, all immigrant children, regardless of status, have access to a public education and are eligible to attend public schools for grades K-12. Undocumented immigrants are also eligible for the Head Start program as it is not considered a federal public benefit program – any child who is otherwise eligible, regardless of their or their parents’ immigration status, may enroll in Head Start or Early Head Start.

Facts on the proposed Public Charge:

Public Charge: Core Messages to Share with Community Members (IRLC)
(Download here)

On August 14, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published a final rule related to public charge in the Federal Register. The rule will not take effect until October 15, 2019. Some counties immediately filed a lawsuit to block the new rule, and additional litigation is expected. Thus, legal challenges could delay implementation.

A summary of the main provisions can be found on our public charge page. Many immigrant families will remain eligible for needed services and will not be legally impacted by changes to the public charge rule. Below are core messages you can share with community members to help combat the chilling effect this rule may have.

  • The new public charge rule was published on August 14, 2019, but will not go into effect until October 15, 2019. The rule might be stopped or delayed beyond that date by courts.
  • The new public charge rule does not apply to any immigration applications filed before October 15, 2019.
  • The new public charge rule does not apply to pending adjustment of status applications and any new applications postmarked before October 15, 2019.
  • Many immigrants remain eligible for public benefits programs and should be unaffected by this rule. Asylees, refugees, U visa holders, Special Immigrant Juveniles, T visa holders, VAWA applicants, and most permanent residents are not subject to public charge.
  • The new public charge rule does not change who is eligible for health and benefit programs. Immigrants who are currently eligible for public benefits will remain eligible.
  • Children under 21 and pregnant women will not be penalized under the new public charge rule for using Medicaid/Medi-Cal. (SB 75 Medi-Cal for children in California is unaffected).
  • Under the new public charge rule, many government-funded services are still safe to use and do not cause any immigration harm. School-funded programs like free and reduced lunch, emergency Medi-Cal (Medicaid), disaster relief, Head Start and more all remain safe to use.
  • The use of benefits by family members, such as children, are not counted against the applicant for immigration status.
  • Immigrant families should consult with an immigration law expert about the possibility that there are no immigration consequences of their accessing health and benefits programs before making important decisions about the health and well-being of their families.
  • The new public charge rule will not take effect until October 15, 2019. Some counties immediately filed a lawsuit to block the new rule, and additional litigation is expected. Thus, legal challenges could delay implementation. If, after consulting with an immigration expert, you believe the new public charge rule will affect you, you have until October 14, 2019 to file an immigration application without the new rule affecting you.

Additional information on the proposed Public Charge:

  • It’s not well-defined. The Clinton Administration defined a “public charge” as an individual likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” Noncash benefits like Medicaid and food stamps were excluded. The Trump administration want to count these as “public charge” issues.
    • Current programs: deemed “Public charge” areas” Immigration officials may consider the following programs in deciding whether a person is likely to become a public charge:
      • Cash assistance programs, including:
        • – state and local cash assistance programs
          – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which has different names in different states[1]
          – Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which helps people with limited income and who have disabilities, are blind, or are age 65 or older
          – General Assistance or other local cash assistance programs
      • Long-term institutional care paid by the government (for example, Medicaid to stay at a nursing home).
    • Under Trump: The programs that would be considered in the public charge test, in addition to the cash and long-term care programs already considered under current policy, are:
      • health care coverage through Medicaid, except for treatment for emergency medical conditions (Medicaid programs run by the states have different names in different states. To see what Medicaid is called in your state, visit
      • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, sometimes called food stamps)
      • low-income subsidy (LIS) for prescription drug costs under Medicare Part D
      • rental assistance under Section 8 housing vouchers, Project Based Section 8, and Public Housing
  • There’s no one judgeDHS’s has declared that they will weigh the “totality of the alien’s circumstances” and that “no single factor alone, including the receipt of public benefits, is outcome determinative, which means that random immigration officers will get to decide based on a person’s age, health, family status, financial status, education, English ability and skills, and the “affidavit of support” filed by their sponsor (if they have one). Arbitrary standards will make their job easier.
  • Income levels aren’t indicative: Earning more than 250% of the federal poverty line ($30,350 for an individual) would be a “heavily weighted positive factor,” for example. However,  the U.S. has about four million foreign-born workers with less than a high-school diploma who earn on average $27,820 per year. They hold vital jobs across the economy that there aren’t enough citizens to fill.
  • Income levels change: According to the National Foundation for American Policy, incomes of immigrants ages 26 to 40 after a mere four years in the U.S. rose to 300% from 239% of the poverty line—nearly the average of native-born counterparts.
  • These rules don’t measure motivation: While immigrants are no more likely than native-born Americans to use public benefits, they are more likely to work. The labor participation rate of Hispanic foreign-born high-school graduates (72.2%) is comparable to white native-born bachelor’s degree recipients (72.7%) and significantly higher than native-born whites with merely a high-school education (53.8%).


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