October 09, 2018

Cortez Masto, Menendez, Duckworth Lead 22 Senators Urging DHS to Withdraw ‘Public Charge’ Rule

Senators warn proposed policy change puts children at risk and ‘closes the door on the American Dream’

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) led a group of 22 Democratic senators urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to withdraw its proposed ‘public charge’ rule, which would make it more difficult for legal immigrants to obtain permanent residency if they have used public assistance programs like SNAP or Medicaid. In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, the senators warned that such a policy would deter hardworking families from applying for benefits and negatively affect millions of U.S. Citizen children. 

“Frightening people away from critical resources will compromise families and communities across our country,” wrote the senators. “The nutrition, health, and stability that impacted services provide have been repeatedly shown to help children succeed… If this rule goes into effect, hardworking families would try to make ends meet with less – hurting children – for no other reason than to advance this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

In addition to Cortez Masto, Menendez, and Duckworth, the letter was signed by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).

Full text of the letter is here and below:


October 9, 2018


The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen


U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528


Dear Secretary Nielsen:

We write today to express our grave concerns regarding the Department of Homeland Security’s (“the Department”) proposed regulation that would upend longstanding policy regarding the meaning and application of the “public charge” provisions of immigration law. If finalized, the regulation would mark a fundamental change from our nation's historic commitment to welcoming immigrants, radically reshaping our legal immigration system.  By expanding the definition of who is classified as a public charge, the Department would force legal immigrants to choose between putting food on the table and advancing their prospects for a green card. Given the serious chilling effect this policy would have on millions of hardworking families and children across this nation, we strongly urge you to immediately withdraw the rule.

Under current immigration law, immigrants are already required to prove that they will not be a burden on our country—they must show they have adequate means of financial support and they cannot be dependent on cash assistance from the government. Multiple studies show that immigrants contribute greatly to our economy by paying billions of dollars in taxes, starting businesses, and creating jobs.  However, this rule attempts to raise the bar so high as to close the door on building the American Dream to hardworking immigrant families that have been the foundation of this country.

The federal government has long recognized that certain benefits like health care, nutrition, and housing assistance help families thrive when they fall on hard times and should not be considered a barrier to obtaining permanent legal status in this country. Under the current public-charge policy, immigration officers can only consider cash assistance and long-term care benefits when making a public charge determination. Your new proposed rule seeks to penalize lawfully-present immigrant families who receive non-cash benefits including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance—potentially rendering individuals who use these benefits ineligible for permanent residency. This drastic expansion of what benefits can be considered in a public charge determination would be an extreme departure from how the statute has been interpreted over many decades.

Frightening people away from critical resources would compromise families and communities across our country. The wellbeing of children and parents are inextricably linked. It is impossible to single out one member of a family without having a ripple effect on children and other members of the household. One in four children in America have at least one foreign-born parent, and children of immigrants make up 31 percent of all children in families that receive relevant benefits. Furthermore, over nine million of these children are U.S. citizens.  Experts believe this change could result in thousands, if not millions, of children losing access to essential benefits because of a broad “chilling effect” that will cause immigrants to withdraw their children from government services.  Even before this rule was formally announced, states across the country saw decreases in enrollment in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) amounting to as much as 20 percent, and state agency officials attribute much of this decline to fears about this immigration policy. 

The nutrition, health, and stability that impacted services provide have been repeatedly shown to help children succeed. For instance, children who receive SNAP or Medicaid are more likely to finish high school, grow up to be healthier adults, and achieve greater economic success. If this rule goes into effect, hardworking families would try to make ends meet with less – hurting children – for no other reason than to advance this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

In light of the serious and detrimental consequences that would result from this proposed regulation, we strongly urge the administration to reverse course and withdraw the proposed public charge rule.