AG Racine Fights Trump Administration "Public Charge" Rule Proposal Attacking Legal Immigrants and Their Families

DHS Proposal Could Force Nearly a Third of the District’s Legal Immigrants to Choose Between Basic Services and Endangering their Immigration Status

WASHINGTON, D. C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine yesterday filed comments strongly opposing a proposed Trump Administration rule that could force thousands of legal immigrants in the District and millions nationwide to risk their future legal immigration status if they access basic services for themselves and their families. AG Racine filed his own comment letter and joined two others opposing the United States Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposal to radically redefine what the term “public charge” means under federal immigration law. The proposed changes would make it harder for immigrants to come to the United States legally, would make it harder for lawful immigrants to gain permanent resident status, and could even cause legal immigrants already here to lose their ability to work legally if they use certain health care, nutrition, or housing programs.

“The Trump administration is continuing its relentless assault on immigrants and is now targeting individuals who are in the country legally,” said AG Racine. “In the letters filed yesterday, we are banding together with scores of cities and states in our opposition to the Administration’s radical redefinition of the term ‘public charge.’ It would throw up arbitrary roadblocks to lawful immigration by otherwise self-supporting individuals and will endanger tens of thousands of District residents and millions of immigrants nationwide.”

On October 10, 2018, DHS proposed a new regulation, known as the Public Charge Rule, that would significantly change a federal policy that has existed for nearly 20 years. The current policy allows the federal government to deny entry or permanent residency to immigrants who are likely to become “primarily dependent” on public assistance—what federal immigration law has referred to as being a “public charge.” The Trump administration’s proposal would upend decades of established practice by vastly expanding the definition of “public charge.” Once a lawful immigrant has been labeled a “public charge,” he or she may be unable to successfully apply for a green card or change their immigration status. They may even lose the right to remain in the country and work legally. 

AG Racine sent a comment letter opposing DHS’s proposed rule. He also joined a letter submitted by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of New Mexico on behalf of a coalition of 24 states, and another submitted by the Cities of Chicago and of New York on behalf of a coalition of more than 30 municipalities. In the letters, AG Racine and his counterparts argue that the radical changes to the definition of “public charge” would make lawful immigration much more difficult by:

  • Expanding the list of “public charge” services to include nutrition, housing, and medical programs: The proposal would significantly expand the scope of services that federal officials can consider in determining whether someone is likely to be “primarily dependent” on public assistance to a broad array of programs that tens of millions of Americans use. Under the proposal, the services would include not only cash assistance, but also Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance.
  • Slashing the monetary threshold to be declared a “public charge”: The proposal would slash the dollar threshold for declaring someone a likely “public charge” to as low as $150 per month of assistance programs. Current policy requires that at least 51 percent of an immigrant’s support comes from cash assistance or that the immigrant is in long-term medical care at Medicaid expense.
  • Exposing children to be labeled as “public charges” if they receive federal health insurance: The proposal could expose immigrant children to being labeled a “public charge” if they are enrolled in the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

In the District’s comment letter, AG Racine pointed out that approximately 100,000 of the District’s 700,000 residents are immigrants. The letter notes a study by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute estimating that, under current rules, approximately 1 percent of the District’s non-citizen residents are at risk of being labeled an inadmissible “public charge.” But under the Trump proposal, nearly one-third of non-citizen District residents who are lawfully in the country would be at risk of being deemed a “public charge,” and thus ineligible to legally remain here or become legal permanent residents.

In the states’ comment letter, AG Racine and his counterparts argue that the proposed rule will be “destabilizing, discriminatory, and will cause harm to immigration populations and to the States,” particularly with regard to health care costs, which can be expected to climb as immigrants avoid healthcare programs like Medicaid and instead seek expensive emergency care. The proposed rule would also discriminate against people with disabilities and non-English speakers.

AG Racine’s comment letter on the proposed rule is available at:

The states’ comment letter on the proposed rule is available at:

The cities’ comment letter on the proposed rule is available at: