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The Biden Administration has reversed another Trump-era policy, this time focusing on the previous president’s crusade to stifle illegal and legal immigration, especially from Central and South American, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and African countries.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday that it reinstated the 1999 Public Charge Rule, which relied on noncitizens’ socioeconomic background and usage of government assistance to supplement more than half their income to determine their eligibility for residency or citizenship.

For two decades, the DHS only considered noncitizens’ use of Supplemental Security Income (SSI); Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); long-term institutionalization at government expense; or State, Tribal, territorial or local cash benefit programs in determining whether a noncitizen was a “public charge.”

However, in 2019, the Trump Administration expanded the Public Charge Rule to include noncitizens’ use of nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Medicaid and public housing benefits.

The DHS said the Trump Administration’s 2019 amendment resulted in a drop in enrollment for these programs among immigrant households, primarily those with U.S. citizen children and noncitizen adults.

Alejandro Mayorkas | Credit: DHS

“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 written statement. “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 added, “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.”

The Council of Large Public Housing Authorities lauded the Biden Administration’s decision to reverse the 2019 amendment, saying it was used to unjustly punish immigrant families.

“Federal housing assistance exists to keep families together and to lift them up, not to be weaponized to tear them apart,” CLPHA Executive Director Sunia Zaterman said in a written statement. “The cruelty of the rule was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as it caused families to opt out of many critical safety net programs, including federal housing assistance.”

“CLPHA looks forward to continuing working with the Biden administration to ensure the equitable and compassionate treatment of immigrants and their families when seeking federal housing assistance,” she added.

The DHS said it’s in the process of updating the policy manual “United States Citizenship and Immigration Services” officers use to determine noncitizens’ public charge status and make decisions about their citizenship eligibility. The rule will officially go into effect on Dec. 23.

Email Marian McPherson

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