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A New Trump Policy Could Deny Green Cards To Immigrants Who Use Public Benefits

The new policy, long in the works, will reshape the immigration system.

Last updated on August 12, 2019, at 2:13 p.m. ET

Posted on August 12, 2019, at 8:54 a.m. ET

Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

The Trump administration introduced a sweeping policy Monday that will allow the government to deny permanent residency to immigrants who use or are likely to use public benefits, such as food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid.

The policy will take effect in about two months, according to the policy published in the Federal Register. The proposed version of the rule was released in September, and it received more than 260,000 public comments online, many of which were critical.

"While some commenters provided support for the rule, the vast majority of commenters opposed the rule," the register said.

The policy is the latest proposal by the Trump administration aiming to restrict immigration, and will likely face swift legal challenge.

The Immigration and Nationality Act has long allowed the government to reject granting permanent residency to immigrants who were determined to be a financial burden on society or a "public charge" — meaning they’re dependent on the government for financial support.

The new rule would alter how the government decides if someone is a public charge, allowing officials to deny green cards to those who have used or will likely use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP food stamps], Section 8 housing vouchers and assistance, public housing, or most forms of Medicaid.

“This rule is the administration's attempt to unilaterally implement a broad immigration reform. It will likely shift immigration away from Latin America and towards Europe, while disproportionately disadvantaging women, children, and the elderly,” said Sarah Pierce, an analyst at the Migration Policy Institute.

More than 4 million noncitizens were in families receiving SNAP benefits between 2014 and 2016, according to an analysis done by the Migration Policy Institute. More than 39 million people were enrolled in the program in June 2018, according to the Department of Agriculture’s most recent statistics. It did not break out the numbers by immigration status.

“For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation’s immigration laws. President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.

Last year, researchers said the proposed version of the rule would have a serious impact on immigrants, regardless of whether they were affected by the policy.

“Numerous studies, by MPI and others, have found the rule would result in disenrollment from public benefits programs by many immigrants, including those not directly affected by the rule, as well as U.S.-born dependents,” read a report released by the Migration Policy Institute. “Already, there are anecdotal reports by service providers of people disenrolling from public benefit programs amid fear or confusion about the rule.”

Advocates signaled on Monday that they are ready to sue over the new policy.

“As a leading national organization fighting to advance and defend the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants, we will fight with every tool we have available to ensure that everyone in our communities has the freedom to thrive and the necessary resources to do so,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, in a statement. “We look forward to seeing Trump in court — again — and to seeing justice prevail as we defend immigrant families and our democracy.”

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