The Biden administration announced it will ease regulations for low-income immigrants seeking to become permanent U.S. residents.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rule, to take effect Dec. 23, that dictates when immigrants can be considered a "public charge," or an economic burden.
The rule rolls back regulations under the Trump administration, which began to consider supplemental public health benefits such as Medicaid and nutritional assistance as part of the public charge inadmissibility determination.
Under the rule, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) only will consider green card applicants a public charge if "they are likely at any time to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence."
"This action ensures fair and humane treatment of legal immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members," Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a DHS press release.
"Consistent with America's bedrock values, we will not penalize individuals for choosing to access the health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them."
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ur M. Jaddou said the policy "treats all those we serve with fairness and respect."
"Though there is still much to do to overcome confusion and fear, we will continue to work to break down barriers in the immigration system, restore faith and trust with our immigrant communities, and eliminate excessive burdens in the application process," Jaddou said.
A noncitizen deemed likely to become a "public charge" can be denied admission or lawful permanent residence (green card).
Before 2019, almost all non-cash government benefits such as Medicaid or nutrition assistance were excluded from consideration. The Trump administration rule, which ultimately was vacated and no longer is in effect, resulted in a drop in enrollments in such programs among individuals, such as U.S. citizen children in mixed-status households, who are not subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility.
The DHS said that publication of this rule in the Federal Register avoids these effects by formally codifying the historical understanding of the term.
The administration in February released a draft version of its public charge regulation, which received more than 10,000 public comments.
The Department of Health and Human Services also praised the changes, calling Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) essential services.
"People who qualify for Medicaid, CHIP, and other health programs should receive the care they need without fear of jeopardizing their immigration status," HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a release.
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