New immigration rule could impact 500k state residents

The Trump administration on Monday published new rules vastly expanding the list of public benefits federal immigration officials may take into consideration when determining whether an individual should be allowed to enter the country or obtain permanent residence. A Boston-based group estimates that it could affect more than 500,000 residents in the state.

Known as the “public charge” provision, the process evaluates a person’s likelihood to become primarily dependent on government assistance. It is used as a basis for admissibility into the US and as a determining factor when immigrants are trying to adjust their immigration status to obtain legal permanent residency.

Currently, immigration officials can only consider records of cash assistance or long-term care at the government’s expense when making these decisions. Under the new provision, any immigrant who had lawfully accessed housing, healthcare, or nutritional assistance could be deemed a “public charge.”

Non-cash benefits like enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, certain Medicaid programs and Section 8 housing subsidies, including the Housing Voucher Program, may all be considered by US Department of Homeland Security officials in determining whether an immigrant is likely to become a “public charge.”

Individuals deemed “public charges” may be denied entry into the US or denied a green card.

A report issued in June by the Boston Foundation found these new changes could impact up to 510,000 Massachusetts residents, including 160,000 children. These estimates take into account immigrants who may voluntarily un-enroll or forgo assistance from programs for which they are eligible in order to avoid being deemed a “public charge,” an action that in turn could jeopardize immigration status.

In a press release, President Trump said, “To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient.” The final rule is scheduled to go into effect in mid-October.

This story was published by WBUR 90.9FM on Aug. 12. The Reporter and WBUR share content by arrangement.