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Public Benefits for Immigrants

were being used as a tool by the Trump administration to keep certain immigrants from entering the United States or changing their immigration status









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Why It Matters

  • About 27 million immigrants and their children are part of families with at least one member who receives public benefits.

  • But the Trump-Pence administration changed the country’s “public charge” rule to deny visas, green cards, and entry into the United States to immigrants who have received or are considered likely to receive certain public benefits — like government-funded health insurance, nutrition assistance, and public housing — with very limited exceptions.

  • The administration's immigration rule was set to function like a wealth test, making it more difficult for immigrants with low incomes to enter or remain in the United States.

Key Players

Donald Trump

President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
Mike Pence

Vice President of the United States

Elected to Office: 11-8-2016
William Barr

U.S. Attorney General (DOJ)

Nominated by Trump: 1-3-2019
  • 2-24-2020
    Public charge rule goes into effect nationwide
  • 1-27-2020
    Supreme Court rules that the administration can use its new “public charge” standard while lawsuits against it go forward

  • 9-1-2019
    Supreme Court temporarily permits third-country rule, which denies most asylum claims at the Southern border
  • 8-21-2019
    Trump administration announced a final "family detention" rule that would allow the administration to detain children indefinitely; the rule is currently scheduled to take effect Oct. 20
  • 8-12-2019
    Trump administration issues final public charge rule designed to stop immigrants from accessing public benefits to which they are legally entitled
  • 7-16-2019
    Rule issued that makes immigrants ineligible for U.S. asylum if they passed through Mexico — denying asylum to nearly all South American immigrants
  • 3-1-2019
    Data show the public charge rule was related to a surge of visa denials in 2018
  • 11-9-2018 
    Trump announces a policy to severely restrict asylum for immigrants
  • 10-10-2018 
    Rule proposed to keep immigrants with low incomes from entering or staying in the U.S
    View more +
    • 9-7-2018
      Proposed family detention rule to let U.S. jail immigrant children with their families indefinitely
    • 6-11-2018
      Jeff Sessions says immigrants fleeing domestic violence don’t qualify for asylum
    • 4-6-2018
      U.S. sharply increases separation of immigrant families at the border
    • 3-27-2018
      Administration says it plans to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census
    • 12-18-2017
      Refugee office head says he interfered with undocumented women’s abortion access
    • 12-14-2017
      Administration starts detaining pregnant immigrants during legal proceedings
    • 10-10-2017
      ACLU sues ORR for blocking a detained undocumented woman’s access to abortion
    • 9-5-2017
      The administration announces it’s ending DACA




“This policy will make people choose between feeding their families now or the possibility of being able to get legal status later.”

Keeping Immigrant Families From Seeking Lifesaving Care

The Trump administration's public charge rule forced families to choose between accessing critical resources like health care, housing and keeping their families together. To be clear, U.S. immigration law still entitles access to some public benefits regardless of citizenship status. But exercising this right — and taking benefits they have a right to take — may be held against immigrants. So, fears of not being allowed to enter the United States or change their immigration status have kept immigrant families from seeking lifesaving care and resources. 

That, in turn, can lead to more poverty, hunger, unmet health needs, and racial disparities. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security noted that the rule could result in “worse health outcomes,” “increased use of emergency rooms,” “increased prevalence of communicable diseases,” and “increased rates of poverty,” among other concerns. 

Just one consequence we’ve seen already: The public charge rule has coincided with a drop in immigrants enrolling their U.S.-citizen children in CHIP.

Background on the Public Charge Rule and Government Benefits for Immigrants

Welcoming Wealthy Immigrants, Rejecting Others

The Trump administration's public charge rule was set to radically reshape the U.S. immigration system. It prioritizes wealthy immigrant families over families with low incomes who have waited years to be reunited.


Forcing Immigrants into the Shadows

Experts worried the new public charge rule had a “chilling effect” on the country by putting immigrants' health and safety at risk and forcing immigrants into the shadows.


Rewire News
First-Person Perspective on the New Immigration Law

First-hand accounts from immigrants who have used federal assistance, such as grants to cover college tuition, reflect the fear that Trump is rewriting immigration law to come after hard-working immigrant families.

Immigrants Already Avoiding Public Benefits

Already, immigrant families have been forced to avoid basic care and benefits out of fear of retaliation from the Trump-Pence administration. For example, health care providers have seen a drop in immigrant parents taking their children to the doctor and a drop in pregnant people accessing prenatal care. As mentioned above, the public charge rule has coincided with a drop in immigrants enrolling their U.S.-citizen children in CHIP.

Keeping Families Apart

The Trump administration's public charge rule directly affects nearly 1 million immigrants in the United States — in addition to millions more people living overseas who are trying to gain legal status in the country. Most of the immigrants who would be forced to pass the “public charge test” have family members who are U.S. citizens, so the rule adds yet another obstacle to keeping families together.


Planned Parenthood Blog
Allowed to Go Into Effect as Lawsuits Continue

On Jan. 27, 2020 — after nationwide preliminary injunctions had delayed the public charge rule from going into effect — the Supreme Court lifted the remaining nationwide injunctions. While courts continued to manage lawsuits against the public charge rule, the rule was allowed to go into effect everywhere except in Illinois (which had its own state-based injunction blocking the rule).


Bethesda Magazine

Related Issues

Separating Immigrant Families

Immigrant Access to Abortion

Detention of Pregnant Immigrants

Public Benefits for Immigrants

2020 Census

Legal Status for Dreamers


The Muslim Ban

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