On Friday, news broke that the Trump administration is considering loosening its deportation rules for legal aliens who are a “public charge” — in other words, those who are a net fiscal drain on taxpayers in terms of their receiving public benefits.
The Trump administration is considering reversing long-standing policy to make it easier to deport U.S. legal permanent residents who have used public benefits, part of an effort to restrict immigration by low-income people.
A Department of Justice draft regulation, seen by Reuters, dramatically expands the category of people who could be subject to deportation on the grounds that they use benefits.
Currently, those legal permanent residents who are declared to be a “public charge,” or primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, can be deported — but in practice, this is very rare.
The draft regulation would use a more expansive definition to include some immigrants who have used an array of public benefits, including cash welfare, food stamps, housing aid, or Medicaid.
As Reuters notes, it is already extant U.S. law to preclude aliens who are, in fact, “public charges.” Daniel Horowitz explained the prevailing statutory regime last year:
Under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an individual seeking admission to the United States or seeking to adjust his status to permanent resident (obtaining a green card) is inadmissible if the individual “at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge.” Section 237(a)(5) contains the deportability provision for public charge. Among the factors that are to be assessed when making this determination are “assets, resources, and financial status; and education and skill.” In addition, section 213(a) empowers the attorney general to require sponsors to sign an affidavit agreeing “to maintain the sponsored alien at an annual income that is not less than 125 percent of the Federal poverty line.”
The anti-public charge provision is codified into the U.S. Code at 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(4). But opposition to “public charge” aliens is, quite literally, as old as the republic. The founding father of the Constitution, James Madison, boldly declared during the congressional debate over the Naturalization Act of 1790, “I do not wish that any man should acquire the privilege [citizenship], but such as would be a real addition to the wealth or strength of the United States.” Even during the early 1700s in colonial America, the colonies frequently adopted laws denying entry to “paupers.” This tradition then continued into the 19th century: In the 1837 U.S. Supreme Court case of City of New York v. Miln, the Court upheld the constitutionality of a New York State law that, in its own words, “intended to prevent the state’s being burdened with an influx of foreigners and to prevent their becoming paupers, and who would be chargeable as such.”
As Reuters observes, though, enforcement of “public charge” provisions has been partially hamstrung since a 1948 court ruling that “limited [public charge deportations] to cases in which the government has demanded payment for public services, and the person has failed to pay.” The Trump administration is now working to grease the skids toward a more robust securing of the nation’s sovereignty against aliens who would drain the national fisc.