Trump Administration May Require Immigrants to Be Able to Support Themselves Financially

September 9, 2018 Updated: September 9, 2018

A long-anticipated plan to enforce provisions in the nation’s immigration laws that require prospective immigrants to be able to support themselves financially—so-called public-charge provisions—might be introduced by the Trump administration this month.

The proposed regulations, defining the phrase “public charge” under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, may be published this fall, and possibly as early as this month, according to a person close to the rulemaking process of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who requested anonymity.

Left-wing advocacy organizations have attacked any attempt to formally define “public charge” as being cruel and xenophobic, and aimed at drastically curtailing the flow of immigrants to the United States. But the lengths to which the new regulation will go remain to be seen.

Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within DHS, discussed a possible draft of the regulation during an Aug. 15 event at the National Press Club in Washington, hosted by the Center for Immigration Studies.

“The goal is not to reduce immigration or, in some diabolical fashion, shut the door on people, family-based immigration, or anything like that,” Cissna said. “The goal is simply to enforce a ground of inadmissibility to this country that’s been on the books for about 100–well, more than 100 years.”

Cissna said the public-charge section in the law, a provision that has “hardly ever been enforced,” states that “an alien who in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the secretary of Homeland Security at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status—getting a green card—is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.”

The phrase “likely to become a public charge” has “never been, as far as I know” interpreted in any regulation, he said. There was an attempt in the 1990s to define the expression, but it was dropped.

Cissna said the administration wants to “issue proper regulations open to full public comment, to, at long last, interpret what that means.”

A document purporting to be a copy of the draft regulation was published online by The Washington Post. It states:

“Aliens who are seeking adjustment of status or an immigrant visa, or who are applicants for admission, must establish that they are not likely at any time to become a public charge. Moreover, DHS will require aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status demonstrate that they are not using or receiving, nor likely to use or receive, public benefits.”

The public-charge principle has been part of the American experience for centuries.

As James R. Edwards Jr. wrote in a 2001 paper for the Center for Immigration Studies, “Public-charge doctrine has been part of American immigration law since colonial days.”

“The English colony of Massachusetts enacted the earliest American public-charge laws in 1645. The arrival in the colonies of undesirables spurred other colonies to enact similar laws.

“By the end of the seventeenth century, American colonists were especially reluctant to extend a welcome to impoverished foreigners and the ‘rogues and vagabonds’ that England had so graciously decided she could spare. Many colonies protected themselves against public charges through such measures as mandatory reporting of ship passengers, immigrant screening and exclusion upon arrival of designated ‘undesirables,’ and requiring bonds for potential public charges,” he wrote.

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