February 10, 2017

Report: Redefining Public Charge



Executive Summary

On February 2nd, 2017, the Washington Post published a draft executive order believed to be under consideration by Donald Trump’s administration that, if signed, would curtail the admission of new immigrants likely to make use of any means-tested program, as well as permit the deportation of immigrants who already do.

The order makes reference to Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act which defines general classes of aliens ineligible for admission to the United States. It includes any alien who a consular officer may, at the time of the visa application or adjustment of status, suspect of becoming a “public charge.” This has historically been interpreted to mean individuals likely to become primarily dependent on cash assistance programs such as SSI, TANF or institutionalized for long-term care. Yet the definition of public charge is detailed in regulation, not statute, and as such the guidance about how to identify a public charge is not set in stone.

In this report, we trace the recent policy history around immigrant eligibility for public benefit programs and estimate the population of noncitizens who would potentially fall under an inclusive definition of public charge. We find that this draft executive order, if enacted, would dramatically expand the ability to deny immigrants admission on public charge grounds, and potentially enable the deportation of up to 1.9 million currently lawful aliens.

Read the report in its entirety here.