Crystal Muñoz, Immigration Policy Analyst, also contributed to the comments.
The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) believes that there should be no test to determine if a person has or is likely to become a public charge, or “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence,” when applying to be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) in the U.S. Until there is political will to change federal statute, GBPI supports common-sense changes to federal regulation. To that end, GBPI submitted a comment on April 25, 2022, to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommending that the agency act quickly in finalizing a “public charge” regulation that protects immigrant families’ access to the health and social safety net. We submitted the document in response to DHS’ request for public comment on their newly proposed public charge rule published February 2022. The proposed regulation would clarify and narrow who and what would be considered in a public charge determination.
Before the Trump Administration’s now-ended rule, the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s 1999 Field Guidance on applying for LPR status and public charge had been in effect for two decades. However, the Trump-era changes to the rule deterred many immigrants with low income from seeking or using public benefits as it raised fears it could negatively affect their status in the country. Anecdotally, direct service providers in Georgia’s immigrant communities noted that many families who were signed up for benefit programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) disenrolled after the Trump-era rule. National figures indicate many noncitizens have pulled their children out of SNAP despite experiencing food insecurity. Since uncertainty and fear remain in many immigrant communities, this new proposed rule is an important action for DHS to address the chilling effects of the previous administration’s policies.
If finalized with these recommendations, the rule would provide needed clarity for immigrants and their families and narrow the considerations for public charge. GBPI agreed with or recommended the following proposals:
- Remove “alien” from the full text of the public charge rule and replace it with “noncitizen.” Not only is the latter less dehumanizing, but it also aligns with the Biden Administration’s memorandum from the Executive Office for Immigration Review which clarifies the agency’s use of the term “noncitizens.”
- Clarify that only current use of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, or monthly cash benefits for families in poverty) program and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI, cash assistance for individuals with disabilities and low income) program be considered for a public charge determination. However, the receipt of these programs alone should not be the only consideration.
- Do not consider state, Tribal, territorial or local cash benefits in a public charge determination. Including these programs, which are dynamic and variable, can be confusing to immigrants who often are not policy experts and may lead them to not sign up for necessary benefits.
- Clarify that applying for benefits on behalf of a child should not be considered in a parent’s public charge determination.
- List the 29 immigration categories for which the public charge categories would not apply.
- Create a robust plan for outreach and coordination with federal, state and local agencies as well as community partners who may be trusted organizations in immigrant communities. Presenting clear, accurate and accessible information through multiple outlets is the best way to educate immigrant communities who have been harmed by the Trump-era rules.
 Immigration and Naturalization Service, (May 26, 1999), Field guidance on deportability and inadmissibility on public charge grounds, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/1999/05/26/99-13202/field-guidance-on-deportability-and-inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds.
 Food Research & Action Center, (May 2021), New data reveal stark decreases in SNAP participation among U.S. citizen children living with a non-citizen, https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/SNAP-Participation-Among-U.S.-Citizen-Children.pdf.
 King, J., (July 23, 2021), Policy memo to clarify the agency’s use of terminology regarding noncitizens, U.S. Department of Justice, Executive Office of Immigration Review, https://www.justice.gov/eoir/book/file/1415216/download.