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Department of Homeland Security Changes Immigration Law; Now Requiring Immigrants to be Self-Sufficient

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The United States is undergoing a massive change in how immigration laws are followed under President Trump. Many of these changes are making immigrants moving to the US very concerned. In August, the Department of Homeland Security announced they would be following a longstanding law which says immigrants cannot receive public assistance once they arrive. Forms of private aid from churches and other organizations, however, are encouraged to be utilized by immigrants.

The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) acting director Ken Cuccinelli released a statement on the issue explaining they are following a law that has existed for over 100 years, and one that the Trump administration is the first to acknowledge in a long time. “President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce longstanding immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years,” says Cuccinelli.

The Department of Homeland Security also changed the definition of “public charge.” Someone considered a “public charge” now refers to anyone and any family who may be considered for any public benefit in the future. A public benefit is any cash benefit from the government to assist with income maintenance and healthcare. These programs include Social Security Income (SSI), Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, most forms of Medicaid, and some housing programs. A “20 Factor Public Charge” test will be given to ascertain this for new immigrants and immigrants already here.

There is an additional rule that says no immigrant will be able to receive public benefits for longer than 12 months—and, if an immigrant gets more than one benefit per month, that month will count as two months. There are public benefits, however, that an immigrant can still receive which will not hurt their immigration status. These include:

  • Active-duty military or armed forces members (and their spouses and children) benefits
  • Benefits for international adoptees and children seeking US citizenship
  • Benefits for immigrants under the age of 21
  • Benefits for immigrants who are pregnant
  • Any benefits for immigrants receiving services received by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Several groups of immigrants will not be required to follow the new immigration rules. These groups include refugees, asylees, special immigrant juveniles, trafficking individuals, and victims of domestic assault.

There have already been legal challenges with the implementation of this law. “This new immigration policy was originally supposed to go into effect October 15th, 2019,” says Attorney Steven Hart. “Two Federal courts, however, have prevented this new rule from being implemented. Eight Federal courts are attempting to legally challenge the rule as well.” The Trump administration is expected to appeal these decisions, but there is little hope that the State Department will refrain from implementing these changes to immigrant’s rights.