Trump cracking down on immigrants who receive public assistance

ON May 23, 2019, Pres. Trump issued a memorandum to strictly enforce obligations under affidavits of support (Form I-864), including:

• Seeking reimbursement from sponsors when the sponsored alien receives certain forms of “means – tested public benefits,” such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and

• When the sponsored alien applies for certain means – tested public benefits, “the financial resources of the alien’s sponsor must be counted as part of the alien’s financial resources in determining both eligibility for the benefits and the amount of benefits that may be awarded.”  In other words, if an alien’s sponsor on an affidavit of support is a rich uncle, and the alien’s entitlement to certain benefits is based on the alien’s income, governmental agencies must now also include the sponsor’s income in determining eligibility.

Trumps goal is to crack down on immigrants who apply for public benefits, “to ensure that ineligible non-citizens do not receive means – tested public benefits.”  If an alien receives such public assistance, governmental agencies should request the sponsor to reimburse them “in an amount equal to the unreimbursed cost of such benefit.”  Trump believes that agencies are not fully or adequately enforcing these requirements.

In 1997, Bill Clinton signed a law concerning affidavits of support.  Trump is now seeking to strictly enforce Bill Clinton’s law.  That law basically required an affidavit of support for family- based petitions, where the sponsor agrees to support the alien and ensure that the alien does not become a “public charge,” by seeking certain public assistance and/or living off of taxpayers.  The affidavit of support is basically a contract between the sponsor and the U.S. government, where the sponsor agrees that if the alien applies for and receives such public assistance, the sponsor will reimburse the government.

Over the years, this law was not strictly enforced.  There were many aliens who, as soon as they received their green cards, immediately applied for as many public benefits as were available, and were basically being supported by taxpayers.  Governmental agencies were supposed to request the sponsor to reimburse them, and possibly take steps to recover those amounts from the sponsor. Now, Trump wants this implemented.

There were other public benefits based on the alien’s income.  If the alien was poor, they could be entitled to those benefits.  However, Trump states that the law requires the sponsor’s income should also be counted in determining the alien’s income level and therefore entitlement to these benefits.

I know there are some aliens (including green card holders) who have applied for government assistance.  It can also be very complicated as to which benefits these aliens are eligible for, and which benefits could trigger enforcement action and/or demands for repayment.  Regulations define “means – tested public benefit,” but Trump’s memorandum requires agencies to provide more guidance, procedure, and details.

Many people have the attitude or belief that the various governmental programs constitute “free money,” where they can receive public assistance without consequence.  But these public benefits are not “free.”  The money comes from taxpayers, and it seems Trump does not want aliens living off taxpayers, especially when they have a sponsor promising to support that alien. 

If you are a non-citizen and considering applying for public assistance,  or a benefit that you are not entitled to under the affidavit of support law signed by Clinton, you and your sponsor may later on be required to reimburse the government.

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Michael J. Gurfinkel has been an attorney for over 35 years and is licensed, and an active member of the State Bars of California and New York. All immigration services are provided by, or under the supervision of, an active member of the State Bar of California. Each case is different and results may depend on the facts of the particular case. The information and opinions contained herein (including testimonials, “Success Stories”, endorsements and re-enactments) are of a general nature, and are not intended to apply to any particular case, and do not constitute a prediction, warranty, guarantee or legal advice regarding the outcome of your legal matter. No attorney-client relationship is, or shall be, established with any reader.


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