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DHS May Turn Away Immigrants Who Use Public Benefits

DHS May Turn Away Immigrants Who Use Public Benefits

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is considering turning away immigrants who have used a broad array of public benefits, including low-income health, educational and housing programs, according to an unpublished draft rule.

The draft, originally reported by Vox, proposed to bar from admission to the U.S. “public charges,” or beneficiaries of food stamps, homeless shelters, the low-income educational program Head Start, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, among other services. Policy experts said the so-called “Public Charge Doctrine” to exclude individuals who cannot support themselves dates back to early American immigration law.

Currently, officials may only consider the use of cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in deciding to exclude such individuals, but the draft rule would significantly expand the kinds of benefits that impact those determinations.

Tyler Houlton, a spokesperson for DHS, declined to confirm the pre-decisional proposal.

“The Administration is committed to enforcing existing immigration law, which is clearly intended to protect the American taxpayer,” Houlton told Law360. “Any potential changes to the rule would be in keeping with the letter and spirit of the law – as well as the reasonable expectations of the American people for the government to be good stewards of taxpayer funds.”

Under the rule, immigrants applying for a visa, adjustment of status or entry to the U.S. at the border would be required to establish that they have not been nor will they ever become a public charge.

Officials would have to consider an immigrant’s health, age, family status, financial stability, education and skills, as well as whether they or their dependent family members, including U.S. citizen children, have received public benefits within the last two years. Moreover, officials would examine whether an immigrant has a received a fee waiver for immigration benefits requests, such as an application for a new visa, and whether they received or are likely to receive subsidized health insurance.

Only benefits utilized upon or after the rule’s implementation would be considered. A “heavily weighted negative factor” would be applied to immigrants who receive benefits for six consecutive months within the last two years after the rule is implemented.

Immigrants, however, who can demonstrate an income of more than 250 percent of the federal poverty level would be exempt from the rule.

The public charge doctrine was enacted in 1882, when Congress barred “idiots, lunatics, convicts and persons likely to become a public charge” from admission to the U.S., according for the Center for Immigration Studies. Jessica Vaughan, CIS’ director of policy studies, tweeted Friday that 51 percent of immigrant-headed households currently benefit from at least one federal welfare program.

Rebecca Vallas, the vice president of the Center for American Progress‘s poverty team, tweeted that the rule would “effectively punish immigrant families for accessing social services.”

“If these new rules go into effect, they won’t just make it harder for immigrant families to reunite – they’ll put them in the impossible position of having to choose between accessing services that their families need to thrive – and reuniting with loved ones,” she said.

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