Public Benefits and Immigration

In the United States, any person can apply for any of the social aid programs that exist in the country such as SNAP and Medicaid. However, if the government decides that a person immigrating to the country will come to rely on cash aid programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)  extensively, they are labeled as a public charge and can be denied admission into the United States. People who have immigrated into this country have been able to use the non-cash welfare programs, but the current administration wants to make it much harder.

In May of 2019, the president put out a memo ordering federal agencies to begin enforcing laws that can punish green card applicants for using programs like Medicaid or relying on food stamps, not just cash-based welfare.

The memo also requires people sponsoring an immigrant in need of government assistance to pay for said immigrant’s benefits. The law factors in the sponsor’s financial situation as well, which ultimately disqualifies more people that need assistance.

It is unclear what will happen to the sponsors who are unable to reimburse the government for the non-citizen’s expenses but the White House has said that they will be sent into collections proceedings and could have their tax refund taken or money withheld from their paycheck. Many people will lose access to benefits such as food stamps and subsidized housing.

Children of immigrants have always and will continue to be eligible for the government assistance programs, however immigrant parents will be more reluctant to take advantage of these programs in fear that it will affect their immigration process in the future.

For example, free vaccines are offered through Medicaid for children of immigrants, however, the fear of jeopardizing their green card in the future will prevent immigrants from taking on these programs that they need to keep themselves and their families healthy and secure. They will avoid Medicaid and the child will go without vaccination.

This law is in line with the current administration’s desire to shift from family-based immigration to merit-based immigration. The harder it is for poor immigrants to pay for food and medical services, the more likely they are to come to the United States.

The current administration would have people believe that immigrants are taking up these programs and are pushing actual citizens who need them out. This is simply not the case as research shows that immigrants use government assistance less than native-born citizens while also contributing to the economy. Do not be scared out of applying for the assistance you need.

If you or someone you know has a question regarding how benefits you receive can affect your immigration case in the future please do not hesitate to call our offices at (213) 489-5202 or visit our website at to see how we can help you achieve your American dream!

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube and be on the lookout for more information regarding immigration law.