• George Farag

Trump’s Public Charge Rule Does Not Go Far Enough

I was an immigrant. I was also a U.S. diplomat. Trump’s new public charge rule does not go far enough. The financial requirement to sponsor an immigrant should be higher than the income limits to qualify for food stamps as mandated by our laws.

In August 2019 President Trump issued a new public charge rule that gives immigration officials broader parameters to identify immigration candidates who may need public welfare programs in America. Those candidates will not qualify for immigration to the United States.

The rule was immediately challenged. Opponents called it “racist,” “cruel,” and “weaponized” against immigrants. Trump was demonized for wanting to “threaten communities and separate families.” Three separate federal judges issued injunctions against the rule. And democratic candidates pledged to reverse the rule.

I am an immigrant. I was also a U.S. diplomat. I don’t think the new rule goes far enough. It should increase the minimum income requirements further when determining public charge, or dependence on government assistance.

Believe me, I know the feeling of relying on the state. My family and I came to America from Egypt in search of a better life. When we fell on hard times I stood in line for government cheese, butter and milk. American taxpayers helped my family and me survive.

I also know the burden of responsibility to uphold America’s laws. I was an American diplomat and consular officer with the Department of State. I served in hot spots like Iraq and Lebanon. I interviewed thousands of people seeking visas to come to America and I decided on their fate. U.S. immigration law guided all my decisions. So I have a profound appreciation for consistent rules and laws.

But immigration rules and laws are not always aligned. The public charge subject is an example. The Immigration and Naturalization Act stipulates that an immigrant cannot be a public charge (INA 212 (a)(4)). Under this law, a consular officer must deny the application of an immigrant who would need public assistance programs. So how can a potential immigrant prove that they can stand on their own two feet?

Most immigration candidates are required to have a financial sponsor – that is an American citizen or permanent resident who takes responsibility to support them. But there is a problem: The minimum income requirement to sponsor an immigrant is less that the income requirement to qualify for food stamps. Let’s look at the numbers.

According to U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to qualify as a financial sponsor a person must show that their income is at least 125% of the U.S. federal poverty guidelines based on household size[1]. For example in 2019 a person with a household of four people could qualify to be a financial sponsor with an annual income of $32,188.

Compare this to the rules for receiving welfare assistance. According to U.S. Department of Agriculture a person may qualify for food stamps if their income is within 130% of the federal poverty level. A head of a household of four is required to have a maximum income of $33,475 to qualify for food stamps[2].

Therefore a person who is making $33,000 in a four-person household could qualify to receive food stamps and yet also qualify to sponsor an immigrant. This is a gap in our legal immigration policy.

This vulnerability is not fixed in Trump’s public charge rule. According to the 837-page document, the minimum income threshold for sponsorship will continue to be 125% of the federal poverty guideline.

To fix this gap the minimum income for sponsorship should be increased to 150% of the federal poverty level. This would ensure that the minimum income to sponsor an immigrant is higher than the income limits to qualify for food stamps. It would remove a discrepancy between immigration law and the public charge rule.

Immigrating to America changed my life. In fact, it may have saved my life. I recognize the desire of millions all over the world to do the same. I want this to happen through carefully crafted rules that fully complement our law. I don’t think I am alone. Immigration is a divisive issue but all Americans can agree that our immigration rules must clearly coincide with our immigration laws.

Trump’s new public charge rule moves in this direction but it does not go far enough. The financial requirement to sponsor an immigrant should be higher than the income limits to qualify for food stamps as mandated by our laws. I remind all candidates who want to reverse the rule, that our public charge laws were put in place for the public good of the American people.

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[1] Sponsors on active duty with the U.S. armed forces who are petitioning for their spouse or child are only required to demonstrate 100% of the poverty level.

[2] To qualify for SNAP an immigrant must be under 18 years old, have had their green card for five years, or be receiving disability-related assistance or benefits.