Press Releases

City Bar Opposes Proposal to Broaden “Public Charge” Rule

Receipt of Public Benefits Should Not Be Disqualifier in Immigration Decisions

The New York City Bar Association has issued a statement opposing proposed changes to broaden the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility publish by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security earlier this month.

“Public charge” has long been a feature of U.S. immigration law as a ground of inadmissibility that applies to non-citizen visa holders entering the U.S. and applicants for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status, primarily those who are seeking admission or adjustment based on their relationship to a family member already in the U.S.  Public charge has been defined narrowly to mean only those applicants for admission or adjustment who were assessed to be “primarily dependent” on government cash assistance or long-term institutional care for subsistence. “In-kind” benefits such as Medicaid and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (“SNAP”, or “Food Stamps”) have not counted towards the public charge assessment, and having a financially sound financial sponsor has been enough to overcome an applicant’s low income. Under this current definition, relatively few non-citizens have been denied admission or prevented from adjusting to LPR status on “public charge” grounds.

As the report explains, “For the first time, use of in-kind health and nutrition benefits would count against the applicant. DHS’s examination proposes to focus on factors such as: limited English proficiency, family size, having physical or mental health conditions that could affect ability to work, or simply being too young or too old to work and credit score. Having a financially-eligible sponsor willing to complete a binding affidavit of support would merely be one of many factors, instead of being practically determinative as it properly is today.”

“If effectuated, these rules would disproportionately impact low-income communities, primarily communities of color,” the statement reads. “The proposed changes would force immigrant families to make impossible choices between life-saving benefits and future immigration options, including the ability to remain in the U.S. permanently with their families.”

Expansion of the public charge rule “will have a devastating impact on children, families and communities,” reads the statement. “If concerns about any receipt of public benefits in the household, even for U.S. citizen children to whom the rule changes do not apply, cause households to forego access to nutrition supports under SNAP, the entire family will suffer from increased food insecurity. Similarly, loss of health care will not only make the entire household more susceptible to increased illness, but will also undermine overall public health and safety for all individuals in the United States, regardless of immigration status. Children, people with disabilities and the elderly will be particularly affected. This rule may further erode non-citizens’ trust in public institutions, even those that are not implicated by the proposed rule change.”

The statement adds that, “[u]ltimately, one of the worst impacts will be the way in which this rule could tear families apart. Many of the persons seeking admission or adjustment to lawful permanent resident status are doing so through immediate family members: U.S. citizen spouses, parents, and children.”

Further, “[t]he proposed changes to the public charge regulation would not only prioritize wealthy, able-bodied, English-speaking immigrants above other immigrants, including those with sound financial sponsors, but will also force immigrant families to choose between receiving government assistance and improved immigration status. No family members should have to choose between life-sustaining benefits and possible family separation.”

With over 3.3 million foreign-born residents in New York City, “the diversity of our immigrant community members is a strength of our City and an abiding strength of our nation.” For these reasons, the statement concludes, “the City Bar staunchly opposes this rule and urges its swift reconsideration.”

Read the statement here:

For additional resources and information on how to comment on the proposal, please see guidance released by the City of New York.

About the Association
The mission of the New York City Bar Association, which was founded in 1870 and has 24,000 members, is to equip and mobilize the legal profession to practice with excellence, promote reform of the law, and uphold the rule of law and access to justice in support of a fair society and the public interest in our community, our nation, and throughout the world. The City Bar’s Social Welfare Law Committee’s work focuses on legal issues impacting low income New Yorkers and public policies which concern income disparities and the social safety net. The Immigration & Nationality Law Committee addresses diverse issues pertaining to immigration law and policy, including prolonged detention of non-citizens, constitutional issues impacting immigration legislation, and questions arising from claims for international human rights protection such as political asylum.