Last updateThu, 25 Feb 2021 12pm

An Explanation of the Public Charge Rule: Frequently Asked Questions

(Cato @ Liberty | David Bier) — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) finalized a regulation this week that bans “public charges” from receiving legal status in the United States. The public charge rule redefines the historic meaning of this term, which will result in far more immigrants not receiving status in the United States based on a bureaucrat’s suspicions that they could use welfare. The rule is fundamentally flawed and will harm taxpayers while separating Americans from family members abroad.

What does the public charge statute say?

Section 212(a)(4)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182) states, “Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular [or immigration] officer…. is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.” Someone who is inadmissible cannot receive a visa to travel to the country, be granted admission to it, or receive status in it. This law—which has existed largely in its current form since 1891—does not define “public charge.” Rather, it requires officers to consider at a minimum the person’s age, health, family status, finances, and education or skills.

In addition, the law mandates that family- and employer-sponsored immigrants receive “affidavits of support” from their sponsors in the United States. Affidavits of support are legally enforceable contracts between the U.S. government and the sponsor in which the sponsor agrees to support (and demonstrates support) for the applicant at an income not less than 125 percent of the federal poverty line (in 2019, $32,176 for a family of four) until the immigrant naturalizes to become a U.S. citizen or if the alien has worked 10 years. If the immigrant does receive welfare, the government can sue the sponsor for breach of contract (for at least 10 years) or otherwise seek to collect. ....continues.

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