Even if the policy doesn’t become law, it’s already punishing struggling migrant families.
The Trump administration is pushing ahead with a plan to deport U.S. legal permanent residents who use public benefits.
Reuters reports that the policy is part of a Department of Justice draft regulation. While the administration had already suggested denying citizenship applications for migrants deemed dependent on state services, the latest rendition ‘dramatically expands’ the category of people who could be eligible for outright deportation.
According to Reuters, existing policy allows legal permanent residents who are declared ‘public charges’—or primarily dependent upon the government for income and subsistence—eligible for deportation. But in practice, authorized aliens are rarely detained and shipped off for availing federal aid programs.
And ‘aid,’ under the draft’s broad definition, includes a variety of services, which range from cash welfare and food stamps to housing subsidies and Medicaid.
However, Reuters does note the regulation isn’t in its final form or likely anything close it. Even if the Trump administration push and implement the policy, it’d certainly attract lawsuits and might not end up in use.
Nonetheless, it’s part of a far-reaching, very Trumpian initiative to curb legal and illegal immigration alike. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked U.S. asylum policy, saying it gives aliens a ‘loophole’ or legal backdoor into the country.
Trump also claims to support the continued entry of college-educated, highly-skilled immigrants to the U.S., but has done little to encourage more arrivals.
But rumors and drafts of regulations targeting migrants who claim public benefits has had an impact. Media outlets have been reporting for months that some immigrants—including expecting parents and needy mothers—struggle to make ends meet on their own, afraid of being deported or denied the chance to someday become a citizen.
Department of Justice spokesman Alexei Woltornist told Reuters that the agency “does not comment on or confirm draft regulations.”
U.S. law, notes Reuters, already allows for the deportation of immigrants who’ve become “public charges” within five years of arrival into the country, provided their reason for using benefits preceded entry. However, Reuters also adds that a 1948 court case strictly limited such deportations to cases wherein the government demanded payment for public services and were refused or rebuffed by recipients.
Further, Reuters says immigration attorneys they contacted weren’t even familiar with recent cases of persons being deported for using public benefits.
But if the administration’s draft becomes policy, it’d override precedent and allow officials to deport long-term, legal residents far more arbitrarily.
Notably, few permanent residents qualify for any public assistance programs if they’ve had a green card or permanent legal residency for less than five years. So most wouldn’t be affected by the proposal even if it were codified. Yet Reuters does note that some states aren’t as restrictive with welfare or aid disbursals—for instance, some let pregnant immigrant women enroll in Medicaid without any waiting period.
One way or another, immigrant advocates told Reuters the draft regulation veers so far from established precedent that it’s essentially uncharted territory.
“We’re in new territory here because this has never been tested,” said Catholic Legal Immigration Network attorney Charles Wheeler. “I’m concerned that it’s going to be targeted at permanent resident aliens who otherwise thought they were free and clear to receive SSI and other public benefit programs.”
CNBC adds that along with suggesting new standards for deporting legal residents, the Department of Justice also wants immigrants seeking permanent residency status to submit detailed declarations of financial solvency and self-sufficiency.
And an April Atlantic article includes testaments from advocates and attorneys who’ve already seen families suffer simply in anticipation of what the administration might do. Rodrigo Aguirre, of Catholic Charities, said many migrants have dropped out of WIC and are afraid even to enroll in free school lunch programs.
“One time a family came in, and the kid was unmotivated. He had his head down the entire time,” Aguirre told The Atlantic. “The mom said, ‘We don’t have food stamps … so they didn’t have breakfast today’.”