A Tweeter Misses the Mark in Disparaging USCIS's Public Charge Guidance

By Dan Cadman on February 14, 2020

A correspondent to my Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) email account sent me a copy of a tweet by an individual commenting about the recent policy guidance promulgated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in how its officers are to consider applying the recent regulatory changes to enforcement of the "public charge" provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The tweet is clearly intended to be ironic and biting in pointing out the circular logic of the guidance.

The problem with this tweet is that it reflects the tweeter's own ignorance of the INA more than it does any fault with the guidance. It is a mistake to think that only applicants for green cards are affected by the inadmissibility doctrine for likely public charges. Here's what the law actually says:

(4) Public charge

(A) In general

Any alien who, in the opinion of the consular officer at the time of application for a visa, or in the opinion of the Attorney General at the time of application for admission or adjustment of status, is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.

(B) Factors to be taken into account

(i) In determining whether an alien is inadmissible under this paragraph, the consular officer or the Attorney General shall at a minimum consider the alien's-

(I) age;

(II) health;

(III) family status;

(IV) assets, resources, and financial status; and

(V) education and skills. [Emphasis added.]

Let me repeat that: "any alien"; meaning that nonimmigrants who are likely to become public charges are just as excludable as green card applicants. So why emphasize in policy guidance that an application for resident alien status should be considered as a potential adverse factor? Because — as the guidance makes manifestly clear — an individual who is asking to be admitted for his or her entire lifespan is much more likely to try and avail him- or herself of benefits paid for and supported by U.S. taxpayers.

While it's possible, it is not nearly as likely that nonimmigrant tourists, or visitors for business, or foreign students, or others temporarily in the United States will queue up for food stamps or housing benefits, or other such aspects of our nation's generous social safety net.

It is entirely appropriate, then, that USCIS adjudicators be reminded of this fact in writing in a way that makes them cognizant of the factors appropriate to rendering an appropriate judgment of the green card applicant's ability to support himself (or, at least, be supported by the "sponsor" who is claiming responsibility in the applicant's behalf).

Understood in this context, the irony and sarcasm encapsulated in the tweet completely miss their mark. Maybe it's time for the tweeter to take enough time to actually read the law before sharing his views.