An example of a 2017 United States green card. The Department of Homeland Security recently introduced a rule that can deny immigrants permanent residency if they are likely to rely on government assistance. PUBLIC DOMAIN

On Aug. 14, the Department of Homeland Security published the “Final Rule on Public Charge Ground of Inadmissibility,” which can deny permanent residency status to immigrants if the government deems they are likely to become dependent on the United States’ public benefits. 

The public charge rule, effective Oct. 15, applies to immigrants seeking to obtain permanent residency status, immigrants who have a non-immigrant visa seeking to extend their stay and immigrants who look to change their status to a different nonimmigrant classification.

Public benefits that can be evaluated include Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance. Under the new rule, when a person receives any number of public benefits for more than 12 months over a 36-month period of time, it is considered a public charge, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center

“We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet,” Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at a White House press briefing on Aug. 12. “If people are not able to be self-sufficient, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident. And a poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient; many have been, through the history of this country.”

Stony Brook University supports the opinions voiced in a letter by the American Council on Education, according to university spokesperson Lauren Sheprow. The letter details concern for the impact this rule will have on students enrolled in American universities.

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“We are deeply troubled that the broadening of the public benefit programs included under the proposed rule, such as SNAP (food stamps) and Medicaid, will have a negative impact on our immigrant and U.S. citizen students, as well as our ability to provide services to our larger community through community food banks and early childhood education such as Head Start,” Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE), wrote in the letter.

According to the letter by ACE, the rule may also affect students who are already legal residents, as students seeking Pell Grants may hesitate to accept financial aid packages out of fear that it could negatively impact their non-resident parents.

Nearly 20 states — including New York, California and Connecticut — have since moved to block the public charge rule and create an injunction on the grounds that it unfairly targets and penalizes immigrants seeking public benefits. 

According to the Stony Brook University (SBU) Fact Book, as of Fall 2018, 4,436 students were enrolled who identified as “non-resident alien.” 

Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, has followed suit by also seeking this preliminary injunction to stop Trump’s public charge from going into effect. 

“We will not allow Trump Administration to enact rules that violate the laws and the values of this country,” James said in a press release. “If enforced, the public charge rule will not only sow fear and chaos into the lives of immigrants working to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, but will have an adverse impact on the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers, and individuals across this country. This rule is dangerous, disruptive, and should not be permitted to take effect.”

According to James, the new rule disregards century-old claims that immigrants who use basic, non-cash benefits are not considered public charges because they are not primarily dependent on the government. Additionally, the public charge rule weaponizes the public charge inquiry to specifically target immigrants of color, immigrants with disabilities and low-income immigrants.

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Nancy Hiemstra, associate professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Stony Brook University, specializes in U.S. immigration enforcement policies. Hiemstra voiced her concern for students on campus at the addition of food stamps being included in the new public charge rule.

“It really increases general daily insecurity if you are not wanting to seek aid for things like food supplements,” Hiemstra said. “Hunger is already an issue for a lot of Stony Brook students. So, if fears of seeking any type of aid causes people to not seek help, that has a lot of impacts on health and how you can perform as a student.” 

Supporters of this rule claim that it will motivate a desire for self-sufficiency among non-resident immigrants to detract them from being completely dependent on public benefits. Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow and David Inserra, a policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, stated in an editorial for the Detroit News that immigrants will become more active members of society and contribute to the United States economy instead of reaping its benefits.

“Congress articulated our immigration policy that ‘aliens within the Nation’s borders not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, their sponsors, and private organizations,’” they wrote. “This is intended to prevent damage to the economy and increased public debt, of course, but also to ensure that ‘the availability of public benefits not constitute an incentive for immigration to the United States.’”

“Whether to stay or to go is much more dependent on the situation in their home country or countries of origin,” Hiemstra said. 

She pointed out that immigrants may be escaping instances of extreme violence and poverty, government corruption, or a lack of opportunity and education.  

“They might want to be with family instead of the idea of ‘oh, I’m just gonna come to the U.S. to get all this free stuff,’” she said. “That isn’t what they base their decision on.”

Declan Graham, a junior political science and economics major and treasurer of the College Democrats, said that the public charge rule forces immigrants to make a living for themselves in the country they came from. 

“They’re being told that their dream to come here and work hard is no longer what they have to do,” he said. “They now need to make a living where they’re from before they can even come here, which is taking away some of the American dream.” 

Graham explained that the rule completely alters the way immigration was and what it has turned into in the eyes of immigrants. 

“It’s also something that generations of people here did not have to go through… they could have just come here with a few dollars in their back pocket to make a name, whereas now they are expected to not only have money but to create a status that was unexpected beforehand,” he added. 

Rachel Titus, a junior environmental design, planning and policy major and member of the College Republicans, expressed that the immigration threshold of who should be granted permanent residency status should not be based on how long they took advantage of public benefits. Instead, it should be judged on the number of immigrants being accepted into the U.S.

“It is kind of ridiculous to say ‘oh, you don’t have enough money, that means you’re going to be on welfare for a long time, which means we don’t want you,’” Titus said. “You have to start somewhere.”

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