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Comments on Homeland Security’s “Public Charge” Rule Affecting Applicants for Permanent Residency

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently proposed a rule that would substantially expand DHS’s ability to deny applications for lawful permanent residency by deeming immigrants likely to become “public charges.” We submitted comments critiquing the cost-benefit analysis accompanying DHS’s proposal.

The Immigration and Nationality Act has long authorized the federal government to deny permanent residency to applicants found “likely . . . to become a public charge.” The government has traditionally interpreted that term quite narrowly, however—applying it only to those who are “primarily dependent” on the government for income maintenance, including Supplemental Security Income and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or for benefits for long-term institutionalization. DHS’s proposed rule would adopt a far broader interpretation, reading “public charge” to encompass participation in a wide range of federal and state programs, such as food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Medicaid.

Our comments note that DHS does not identify any significant social benefits that would result from the proposed rule. The agency also fails to: develop a plausible estimate of the extent to which the rule would reduce participation in public benefits programs; monetize the costs of such disenrollment, such as reduced health and productivity; consider the negative consequences for the U.S. economy of reduced legal immigration; and consider the costs of being forced to leave the U.S. for those who are denied permanent residency, as well as their U.S.-based families and surrounding communities.