New York City elected officials and advocacy groups immediately pushed back against a new regulation that will make it easier for the federal government to reject green card and visa applications by penalizing those who rely on public programs like food stamps and housing vouchers.
The new rule, spearheaded by Trump’s leading aide on immigration Stephen Miller, aims to slow — and minimize — legal immigration by expanding the definition of “public charge” to include more immigrants in the U.S. to be deemed inadmissible for entry, visa or change of status.
Under current regulations in the Immigration and Nationality Act, the Department of Homeland Security can deny an application if a person is deemed likely to become a “public charge.” The term, currently defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, only took into account cash benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security.
Under the Trump administration’s new rule, one’s dependence on food stamps, Medicaid, housing vouchers and more — for at least 12 months in any 36-month period — are grounds for denial and show a “lack of self-sufficiency,” according to the regulation.
Advocates are already planning on fighting the new rule, slated to go into effect in 60 days.
“The newly finalized public charge rule makes plain once again the Trump Administration’s barely hidden disdain not just for immigrants but for the majority of Americans. As the Administration itself admitted, the vast majority of commenters opposed the rule last year. We are still determining the full impact this rule will have, but make no mistake: we will not let it fundamentally change the City’s charge to be a sanctuary for all,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca, chairperson of the council’s Committee on Immigration.
Mayor Bill de Blasio denounced the regulation, calling it a “direct assault” on immigrants and telling the president, “we’ll see you in court.”
Brooklynites received more money in food stamps than any other borough in the city in 2017, according to a study by the Food Bank for New York City — though it’s not clear how much of that went to immigrants. The federal government paid out more than $1 billion in SNAP benefits to Brooklynites that year, according to the study.
About 200,000 of the 1.6 million New York City residents using SNAP are eligible immigrants, according to city data.
“The policies coming out of the federal government are already having a chilling effect on some of our most vulnerable neighbors, scaring them away from SNAP and other vital resources like shelter and healthcare,” said Camesha Grant, vice president for community connections and reach at Food Bank For New York City. “This rule is the latest attempt to intimidate immigrants and their families—it would lead to thousands more New Yorkers going hungry every day.”
The change to the “public charge” rule was floated in October 2018, and a December 2018 survey by the Urban Institute found that one in seven immigrant adults avoided public benefit programs out of fear of immigration consequences.
This would not be the first immigration-related lawsuit against the Trump administration. A coalition of New York immigration advocacy groups sued the federal government over putting an immigration question on the census, arguing that the question would lead to an undercounting.
Javier Valdés, co-executive director at Make the Road New York, called the regulation inhumane.
“This inhumane policy change is a direct threat to undercut legal migration of people of color by the Trump administration — in their quest to only allow the white and wealthy into the United States. This attack on our legal immigration system will punish hundreds of thousands by forcing them to choose between accessing vital health and nutrition programs or keeping their families together,” Valdés said.
“There is a 60-day period, after the final rule is published on Wednesday, before the regulation goes into effect — due to the complexity of the rule — we urge individuals who think that they could potentially be at risk of being a public charge to consult with an advocate or attorney. We remain committed to inform, protect and defend working class immigrant communities every step of the way.”
A statement from NYC Health + Hospitals, a major provider of the services in question, called the policy “dangerous and shortsighted.”
“The anti-immigrant rule is intended to instill fear on thousands who are not directly impacted and could discourage more than a quarter million New Yorkers who currently receive care at NYC Health + Hospitals – including children and citizens – from continuing care to prevent illness and manage disease,” said agency CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz. “It goes against everything we’re trying to do in NYC to guarantee health care for all, with dignity and respect, and create healthier communities.”
Update (4:50 p.m.): This article has been updated with information from Food Bank For New York City, the Urban Institute and city data.