The Trump administration wants to punish immigrants for being poor

The Trump administration could make legal immigrants choose between receiving benefits like food stamps and staying in the U.S.
February 9, 2018, 6:46pm

If you thought the Trump administration couldn’t take a more hard-line approach to immigration, think again.

A leaked proposal from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would penalize legal immigrants who use government subsidies or benefits for themselves or their kids. The proposed rules would allow the government to label these immigrants as “public charges,” which could prevent them from obtaining a green card or even renewing a visa.


Reuters first obtained the draft document Thursday and Vox released a portion of it early Friday. According to the reports, immigrants who use of any of the following services for six months or more could be disqualified for future legal residency, even if their kids are U.S. citizens. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps

  • State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides low-cost medical care for children whose families make too much to qualify for Medicaid but aren’t able to purchase other forms of insurance

  • Women, Infants, and Children assistance, which covers medical care for pregnant/breastfeeding/post-partum women and their children under age 5

  • Select educational benefits for children under Head Start, which gives education and health services to low-income children in preschool and early elementary school

  • Low-income housing assistance, including federal grants, tax credits, or reduced-interest loans.

If adopted, the rules would be a major shift in government immigration policy. Since 1999, officials have been barred from considering a person’s use of non-cash benefits when calculating eligibility for citizenship.

Technically, using government benefits wouldn’t automatically disqualify an application for citizenship or legal residency, but it would make the already-arduous process even more difficult. There would also be exceptions for refugee and asylum seekers, and for immigrants who can prove they make “enough” money over the federal poverty level.

Immigrants applying for green cards already undergo a “public charge” background check, and Reuters calculated that 380,000 people went through the process in 2016. Of course, these screenings were based on the current criteria, which is subdued compared to what could be coming.

Use of some benefits — including public school, free or subsidized school lunches, disability insurance, immunizations, Medicare, and unemployment payments — wouldn’t count against someone’s application — at least not for now. The proposed rules could reportedly be finalized and put into effect as early as next month.