Proposed change to federal rule could impact immigrant clients in social, clinical programs

September 24, 2018

The Trump Administration on Sept. 21, 2018 published proposed changes to a federal rule that determines whether someone seeking entry into the United States or legal permanent residency may become a financial burden to the government.

The policy has not yet changed and a final ruling will take time. But the proposed changes have raised many questions for clients and Multnomah County staff.  Multnomah County wants to assure the community that it will continue to welcome all people who need services, without regard to race, origin or immigration status. The County is required to ask immigration status to determine eligibility for some state and federal programs. If not required for eligibility determination, the County does not ask clients about immigration status.

“We are closely watching this proposed change, and we’re working to evaluate what this means for our clients,” said Marissa Madrigal, chief operating officer for Multnomah County. “We’ll continue to communicate to staff and our community partners.”

She cautioned that Multnomah County employees cannot advise clients on what these changes mean. “While there are many unknowns at this point, we urge people to stay informed by going to for a list of resources. And if they have questions about how this might potentially affect them, they should contact an immigration attorney.’’

Here’s what we know so far

The Public Charge test has been employed for more than a century to identify noncitizens reliant on cash assistance or long-term nursing home care; those applicants can be denied entry into the United States or refused permanent residency.  

The rule — and the proposed draft changes —   does not apply to:

  • People who are refugees and asylum seekers.

  • Individuals applying for a T or U visa.

  • People who are already legal permanent residents.

  • A legal permanent resident renewing his or her green card.

  • A legal permanent resident who is applying for citizenship.

  • Amerasian Immigrants (for initial admission)

  • Individuals granted relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA)

  • Individuals granted relief under the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)

  • Individuals granted relief under the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA)

What might the proposed changes do

The Administration is proposing drastically expanding the types of assistance that could jeopardize an individual’s application for entry or permanent residency. The United States has long considered Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and institutionalization for long-term care at government expense when applying the Public Charge test for an applicant seeking entry into the U.S. or permanent residency.

The proposed expansion those benefits would also include:

  • Medicaid (with limited exceptions for benefits paid for an "emergency medical condition," and for certain disability services related to education),

  • Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy,

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps),

  • Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program,

  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance,

  • Public Housing.

What will happen next

Before any changes become final, however, the Department of Homeland Security first must publish a “notice of proposed rulemaking” in the Federal Register for a period of 60 days. The public may then submit comments, to which Homeland Security must reply before making any proposed changes final. After the final rule is published, it takes 60 days before it goes into effect.

Elena CaJacob, manager of the Oregon Ready Coalition for Causa Oregon, said advocates and agencies are working to educate (lea las Preguntas Frecuentes en Español) immigrant communities and agencies that serve immigrant residents.

“People should not be dropping out of services due to rumors or fears. This is still just a proposal, and if it does become law, it will not apply retroactively,” she said. “A lot of community organizations are paying close attention to this and advocating for families. There is still time to act. There is still time to advocate for fairness.”

CaJacob cautioned government staff not to offer advice that might put clients at risk. Instead, if clients express concerns about changes to Public Charge, the National Immigration Law Center has provided the following messages for service providers:

  • The policy has not yet changed.

  • The proposed rule is still a draft. A final rule will take time.

  • If the proposed rule becomes final, noncash benefits used before that time will not be considered.

  • Not all immigrants are subject to the public charge test. Refugees and some other immigrants are exempt.

  • Multnomah County will continue to welcome all people who need services, regardless of a person’s immigration status or ability to pay.

  • Anyone who has legal questions or concerns should visit an immigration attorney.

Resource on Public Charge

Know the facts about public charge (Español), a factsheet by Oregon Immigration Resource (updated Sept. 22, 2018)

Information about changes to proposed rule, a factsheet by the Center for Law and Social Policy (updated Sept. 22, 2018)

Oregon Immigration Resource: A network of nonprofits and legal firms that provide information and workshops to families and agencies, with materials in English and Spanish.

Protecting Immigrant Families: A partnership between the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Immigration Law Center. Sign up for news alerts, download factsheets in English and Spanish.

Legal Resources

AILA Oregon: The Oregon Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association is a network of licensed attorneys with an understanding of the complexities of immigration law.

SOAR immigration legal services: Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees offers low-cost immigration representation and education to low-income families.

ICS: Immigration Counseling Services is a nonprofit law firm offering lower-cost immigration legal services and education.

Catholic Charities This nonprofit's Immigration Legal Services office offers low-cost immigration representation to low-income immigrant and refugee families, and coordinates workshops across the state.

Immigrant Law Group: This Portland law firm hosts a resource page and volunteers at workshops.