Last month, the Trump administration published a proposed rule that would expand the current “public charge” test used when people apply to enter the country or for lawful permanent resident (green card) status, in a way that would harm immigrants and their families and have far-reaching consequences.
But what exactly is the “public charge” test? When an immigrant seeks to enter the United States or applies to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR, or green card holder), immigration officials consider whether the individual is likely to become a “public charge.” Under the definition that has been in place for over 20 years, being a “public charge” means that an individual is “primarily dependent on the government for support.” In making the “public charge” determination, immigration officials consider whether an individual receives the majority of his or her support from cash assistance, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or long-term government-funded institutional care.
Under the proposed rule, the definition of “public charge” would be expanded to mean “likely to use one or more public benefits.” Additionally, the public benefits considered would be expanded to include non-emergency Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy, and housing assistance.
If finalized, this proposed rule would be a significant and harmful departure from the current policy. And it would harm millions of immigrants and their families, making our nation hungrier, sicker, and poorer. Moreover, this proposed rule has the potential to particularly harm survivors of domestic violence (DV).
No one should live in fear of domestic violence, and certainly no one should feel unable to leave an abusive situation solely because they lack the financial means to do so. Access to financial resources plays a pivotal role in whether a survivor is able to safely leave an abusive relationship. And public benefits—like the exact ones included in the proposed rule—help provide survivors with the economic support necessary to be able to leave or recover from an abusive situation. In fact, because immigrant survivors and survivors of color face higher housing barriers and food instability and are more likely to face economic instability, public benefits play an even more important role in their survival.
The proposed rule would discourage survivors from using benefits they need to leave or recover from domestic violence, out of fear of jeopardizing their immigration status. Alternatively, survivors who have no other choice could find that they are denied entry or LPR status. Since this proposed rule was published, we have already seen eligible immigrants begin to withdraw from SNAP out of fear and confusion over this rule change—even though the proposed rule is not yet final. And we would expect that the proposed rule would likely discourage immigrant survivors from seeking or utilizing public benefits more generally.
When survivors lose access to economic supports, it affects not only the economic security of survivors themselves, but also their families and children. Our country and our communities thrive when we support the safety and well-being of all survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. This proposed rule undermines that very principle. As a society, we should be making it easier for survivors and their families to receive the public benefits they need to escape an abusive situation and find the financial stability necessary to recover. Moreover, because abusers often ruin economic opportunities for victims, for example, by keeping them from accessing bank accounts or resources of preventing them from having a job, this rule also unfairly punishes survivors for their abusers’ conduct.
While there are statutory exclusions that exclude Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitioners and those applying for U visas from the “public charge determination,” in reality, not all DV survivors and their families are able to benefit from these specific statutory protections and are applying through other application processes. Many survivors and their family members, therefore, would have to overcome a “public charge determination” and risk having to choose between the economic supports that enable them to leave an abusive relationship or risking their immigration status.
Fortunately, this proposed rule is not finalized and there is still time to take action. Before the December 10 deadline, submit your comments here, and in your own words, tell the government why you oppose the proposed “public charge” rule. The more comments that are submitted, the more this administration will see the harmful effects that this rule would have on our communities and families. It cannot be reiterated enough that this rule is not final, and immigrant survivors can and should continue to receive these benefits.
We can fight to protect and empower immigrant survivors and ensure that this proposed rule never becomes finalized.
For more information about the commenting process or this rule’s impact on immigrant survivors, please visit: https://www.immigrantsurvivors.org/stop-threat-to-immigrant-survivors.