Thursday, August 9, 2018
The Trump Administration’s immigration policy is one of the most hotly contested areas of American law. However, few have explored the Administration’s interest in using the obscure doctrine of public charge to further its agenda. Public charge determinations allow immigration authorities to prevent individuals from entering the country as well as deport immigrants who use public benefits. What’s more, individuals who sponsor family members to enter the United States are liable to pay the federal government back for any public benefits the sponsored family member uses once in the United States. A leaked draft Executive Order and proposed regulations suggest that the Trump Administration plans to use this obscure nexus of alienage law and public benefits regulations in support of its agenda and pit immigrant communities and families against each other.
This Article sketches the intersection of immigration law and the law of public benefits. It begins by mapping the unpredictable landscape of noncitizen eligibility for public benefits. The Article then analyzes public charge doctrine and the ways in which the Trump Administration threatens to upend this longstanding regime through proposed regulations, revised guidance, and punitive enforcement practices. Finally, the Article identifies the contours of data-sharing among federal and state agencies, including what protections exist to prevent government officials from repurposing that data for use in immigration enforcement actions.