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Playing the green card: The Trump administration’s ‘public charge’ rule puts more restrictions on legal immigrants


Miller's devious handiwork. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Long before Donald Trump’s xenophobia came along, federal immigration law refused green cards to legal immigrants deemed a “public charge,” meaning anyone whose primary income is government cash benefits. The rule covered direct money payments, not the broad array of non-cash social programs provided by the state.

So last fall, when Trump’s anti-immigration fanatic Stephen Miller starting pushing to radically expand the definition of “public charge” to include all kinds of government aid (and exclude many more newcomers from permanent resident status), we called for “a flood of comments” to show that the American people said no.

And there was a flood. “The Department of Homeland Security received 266,077 comments on the proposed rule, the vast majority of which opposed the rule” says the final DHS rule being published in the Federal Register tomorrow. More than 700 pages of the filing deal with comments and responses.

But the outpouring of perhaps a quarter million rejections didn’t matter. The secretary-less DHS had marching orders from Miller. Unless a court intervenes, starting in 60 days, determining factors in whether a green card applicant is a “public charge” or not won’t just be the amount of cash benefits they receive but also the value of food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare Rx costs, Section 8 housing vouchers, rental assistance, and other kinds of subsidized housing.

If those programs’ value add up to too much of the person’s income, “public charge” gets stamped on the paperwork and any possible green card disappears. Just what Miller wants.