What Does Public Charge Mean for Immigrant Families Today?

Proposed Changes to the Public Charge Rule

When a non-citizen applies for a visa to enter the U.S. or for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., for a green card), the federal government looks at the person’s circumstances to see whether they are or are likely to become a public charge—a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support. In October 10, 2018, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published a proposed regulation which could dramatically expand the grounds for public charge determinations, resulting in application denials.

In our comment opposing the proposal, we estimated that the proposed rule could cause 73,808 lawfully present noncitizen immigrants and their family members across Mississippi—including 22,272 children with a noncitizen household member—to dis-enroll or forgo enrollment from public benefits for which they are legally eligible. The Mississippi Center for Justice was only one of hundreds of thousands of organizations and people nationwide who opposed the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed changes, which could force millions of lawfully present immigrants and their families across the U.S. who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to make an impossible choice between lawfully accessing critical food, health care, and housing assistance, and staying together.

Public Charge Today

The federal government’s proposed changes to public charge grounds for inadmissibility are not final and there is currently no advantage to dis-enrolling from public benefit programs. This means that immigrant and mixed-status families should continue to get the help that they need through health, housing, and nutrition programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing.

Nevertheless, the proposed regulation is fueling confusion, fear, hunger, and poor health among lawfully present immigrants and citizen family members in Mississippi and around the country. The Atlantic recently reported that the proposed rule is scaring many lawfully present immigrants and their families from participating in public benefits for which they are legally eligible. Immigrants and their families in Mississippi are following suit. In MCJ’s immigration “Know Your Rights” trainings throughout the state, community members have expressed confusion and despair over the proposed rule as well as fears that accessing public benefits for which they are eligible would result in their own forced removal from the United States and years of separation from their children. Some of our state’s most vulnerable immigrants—including asylees and refugees fleeing persecution as well as victims of violent crimes and severe forms of human trafficking—are exempted from the public charge test by law. Nevertheless,  many are forgoing programs for which they and their children are eligible out of fear the proposed rule will cause them to lose their immigration protections. The fear caused by the proposed rule only exacerbates the tremendous harms these families have already suffered.

 Protecting Immigrant Families 

 In this era of heightened immigration enforcement fueled by radical racial, ethnic, and economic prejudices and resulting in widespread fear, everyone has a role to play in protecting immigrant and mixed-status families. The Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future Campaign provides community resources on public charge for people working with immigrant families. Several resources, including FAQs, are available in multiple languages.

Get Legal Help

This blog post contains general information and is not legal advice. If you live in Mississippi and have concerns related to public charge determinations, public benefits usage (e.g., SNAP, Medicaid), or your immigration situation, we can help you decide what’s best for you and your family. Contact the Mississippi Center for Justice at (601) 352-2269.


Amelia McGowan is Testing Coordinator/ Staff Attorney- Immigration for the Mississippi Center for Justice.

Madeline Morcelle is Staff Attorney-Public Benefits for the Mississippi Center for Justice.