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Biden administration seeks to remove more obstacles for immigrants

(CNN) — The Joe Biden administration plans to put in place a new rule that will remove potential obstacles for immigrants who depend on public benefits and try to obtain legal status, according to a new regulation proposal.

The proposed change brings the so-called “public charge” rule back to the fore.

The Trump administration had tweaked the decades-old regulation in a way that could reshape the legal immigrant population in the United States by making it more difficult for people to gain status.

The Biden administration is turning the tide by considering what public benefits would indicate an individual is heavily dependent on the federal government and excluding benefits, such as food assistance programs and housing benefits, that should not be used against an individual who otherwise depends on your own resources.

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Under the proposed rule, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would consider benefits such as cash assistance for income maintenance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and long-term institutionalization at the expense of the government, according to a notice sent to Congress.

“The 2019 public charge rule was not consistent with our nation’s values,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement. “Under this proposed rule, we will return to the historical understanding of the term ‘public charge,’ and individuals will not be penalized for choosing to access health benefits and other supplemental government services available to them.”

What is “public charge”

Under current regulations, which went into effect in 1996, the term “public charge” is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it provides you with more than half of your income.

But it only counted cash benefits, like TANF or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security. The Trump administration expanded the definition of who is expected to be dependent on the government by including more benefit programs. That change is no longer in effect.

Immigration officials may take into account an applicant’s financial resources, health, education, skills, family status, and age. But few people are turned away for these relatively narrow reasons, according to experts.

The use of disaster assistance, pandemic assistance and other benefits will also not count against immigrants, according to the notice.

The DHS argued in the proposed new regulation that changes made in 2019 by the Trump administration had caused a chilling effect within immigrant communities, citing experts, and led immigrants to avoid benefits such as health care for concern that using those benefits could prevent them from obtaining legal status.

As a result, the Biden administration is proposing to adopt a rule similar to the one used prior to 2019. The proposed rule will have a 60-day public comment period.

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