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Trump Administration’s Sweeping Public Charge Rule Could Potentially Have Resulted in Green Card Denials for Most Recent Immigrants, Analysis Finds
Press Release
Friday, November 16, 2018

Trump Administration’s Sweeping Public Charge Rule Could Potentially Have Resulted in Green Card Denials for Most Recent Immigrants, Analysis Finds

WASHINGTON – A Trump administration proposed rule that would apply a significantly expanded test to determine if green card applicants would be likely to use specified public benefits in the future could potentially have put most recent legal permanent residents at risk of green card denial, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) analysis finds.

The proposed public charge rule, which is in the midst of a public comment period that closes December 10, could significantly reshape legal immigration to the United States, with a disproportionate effect on women, children and the elderly, and a shift away from Latin America and towards Europe in particular, MPI researchers found.

A new policy brief, Gauging the Impact of DHS’ Proposed Public-Charge Rule on U.S. Immigration, examines one aspect of a sweeping proposal that could not only affect future legal immigration to the United States but also have marked “chilling effects” on existing and future benefits usage by already settled immigrants and their U.S.-born relatives.

Drawing upon analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data, the MPI researchers applied the administration’s proposed expanded “totality of circumstances” test to immigrants who have received legal permanent residence (aka getting a green card) within the past five years, as a demonstration of the effect the rule could have on future applicants.

Under current law, immigration officers already apply a totality of circumstances test by considering factors such as age, education, health, income and resources to determine if the applicant is likely to use certain public benefits in the future; prospective immigrants rarely fail the test currently. The Trump administration would make this test more stringent by expanding the list of benefits that could result in denial, considering whether immigrants are likely to receive a minimal level of benefits and specifying new negative and positive factors to weigh in the assessment. (Refugees and other humanitarian admissions are already and would remain exempt from the public charge test.)

Most recent green-card recipients—69 percent—had at least one negative factor under the administration’s proposed test; 43 percent had two or more; 17 percent three or more; and 4 percent four or more. Just 39 percent had one of the heavily weighed positive factors: Incomes at or above 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($62,750 for a family of four).

In real numbers, of the approximately 940,000 people given green cards in fiscal 2017 (excepting refugees and other humanitarian admissions), about 650,000 would have been at risk of denial for having at least one negative factor, and of these about 400,000 had at least two. Just 370,000, or 39 percent, would have met the heavily weighed positive factor of having an income of at least 250 percent of the poverty level. These are conservative estimates given that MPI’s analysis used low thresholds for negative factors where such thresholds were vague in the rule, and some factors could not be modeled due to data limitations.

“This proposed rule may, in the long run, impose the kind of steep cuts to family admissions that the Trump administration has consistently championed but could not accomplish via legislation,” the authors conclude.

Examining five of the proposed negative factors, the MPI team found that:

  • 43 percent of recent green card recipients were neither employed nor enrolled in school
  • 39 percent did not speak English well or at all
  • 33 percent had incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty level
  • 25 percent lacked a high school diploma
  • 12 percent were either under age 18 or over 61 and had an income below 125 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Because the proposed rule is vague on the relative importance to be given to different factors and how many negatives would result in a denial, it would seem the ultimate decision about who gets denied may be left to the discretion of individual immigration officers,” the researchers write.

The proposed rule’s emphasis on employment could fall hard on women who stay at home to raise their children, as well as on children and the elderly, whose ages would count as a negative factor and who also are less likely to work and more likely to be poor. About 45 percent of children had two or more negative factors, as did 72 percent of adults over age 61. The proposed rule is silent on how immigration officers should treat applications where a working family member passes the public charge test but a nonworking spouse and children fail it.

Immigrants from Mexico and Central America would be at a higher risk of denial than those from other world regions, with 60 percent having two or more negative factors as compared to 48 percent for those from the Caribbean; 41 percent from Asia; 40 percent from South America; 34 percent from Africa; and 27 percent from Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The test, which would be applied not only to prospective immigrants but to immigrants already in the United States seeking a green card or renewing another immigration benefit, would have a strong chilling effect. 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. Already, there are anecdotal reports by service providers of people disenrolling from public benefit programs amid fear or confusion about the rule. Under the administration plan, use of food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing assistance, public housing or drug benefit subsidies under Medicare Part D would be considered, beyond the current review of use of cash assistance for income maintenance and long-term institutionalization (primarily Supplemental Security Income [SSI] or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families [TANF].

Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/impact-dhs-public-charge-rule-immigration.

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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels.