Homeland Security Proposes Changes to Public Charge Immigration Policy

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Department of Homeland Security Public Charge Proposal: Comments accepted until 12/10/18

The public has until December 10, 2018 to submit comments on a proposed rule change from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that would alter U.S. immigration policy. This is a complicated policy issue – which is why we’re providing lots of resources here for you to learn about the issue and consider submitting comments about your perspective on the issue.


On October 10, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a proposed update to the “public charge” policy. This policy, originally implemented in 1882, considers numerous factors to determine an individual’s eligibility for legal permanent resident status (via a green card and/or citizenship) based on whether they are likely to depend on public resources to meet their needs.

The Proposed Change:

The proposed update to the “public charge” policy would expand the rule to include additional factors that were not previously considered, including an individual’s eligibility for the following public benefits:

  • Certain federal housing assistance programs
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program)
  • Medicaid

It would also include stricter guidelines around age, health status, and income.

In the DHS statement about the proposed rule change, Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that the rule “will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.” DHS states that the rule will “ensure that those seeking to enter and remain in the United States either temporarily or permanently […] will not be reliant on public benefits.”

Responses to the proposal

Opponents have raised concerns because the proposed rule change would create additional barriers for immigrants seeking to obtain a green card or U.S. citizenship. Furthermore, they argue that the change will cause many immigrants who are eligible for public benefit programs that they or their families depend upon to not enroll out of fear that it would harm their future immigration status. NPR reported that researchers have seen a drop in the number of immigrant families enrolled in SNAP in 2018 – which some believe is the result of existing uncertainty among families in the midst of the proposed rule change.

Numerous local leaders and organizations have joined with national coalitions in opposition to the proposed change including: Mayor Bill Peduto, Just Harvest, All for All, Feeding America, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Casa San Jose, and the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network (PIIN).

“This is not a political message, this is not a political issue. It is a human rights issue,” Rev. Denise Welch, president of PIIN, said at a press conference held with Mayor Peduto on Thursday (KDKA). Monica Ruiz, Executive Director of Casa San Jose – a community resource and welcome center in Southwestern PA – also stated that the rule change “is a way to scare our communities.”

What does this mean for the U.S. and for Pennsylvania?

“The population expected to be most impacted is those still outside the US, experts say, but the rule estimates nearly 400,000 immigrants already in the US per year would be subject to the new scrutiny” (CNN).

In Pennsylvania, the rule would likely have significant direct economic impacts. New American Economy’s state-level analysis of the proposed rule notes that “In 2017, there were approximately 138,347 non-citizens who reported receiving monetary or non-monetary aid, for either themselves or for their non-citizen children.” They also noted that “Approximately 86 percent of all adults active in the labor force who would be affected by the public charge rule are employed,” showing that many people who would be impacted are contributing to local economies.

Here are some of the economic impacts on PA:

  • “The total annual income of workers who would be affected by the public charge rule is $1.1 billion. Should they leave the United States, Pennsylvania’s economy would suffer negative indirect economic effects of $800 million. The total cost to the Pennsylvania economy could therefore amount to $1.9 billion.”
  • “By encouraging or forcing workers to leave or go underground, the public charge rule change will have a destabilizing effect for several major Pennsylvania industries” – including over 37,000 trade, transportation, utilities, professional and business services, accommodation, food, and education and health services workers.
Additional Resources on the Issue:

Check out the resources below to learn about the potential impacts of the change (NOTE: some resources may have a position on the issue that does not necessarily represent PUMP’s position. We are simply sharing information from reputable sources. If you know of other resources on this issue, please email lindsay@pump.org)

Want to take action on this issue?

You can submit comments on the proposed rule change directly to the Department of Homeland Security until December 10th, 2018 here.

Local organizations opposed to the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed changes are hosting a comment writing party in the evening on Monday, December 3.