Biden’s New Executive Order on Public Charge

February 5, 2021 | Texas

By Cheasty Anderson and Marianna Montes Moreno

In a win for immigration advocates, President Biden signed an Executive Order (EO) on Tuesday, Feb 2, entitled, ‘Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans’. This EO focuses on removing barriers to the legal immigration system in the U.S., including an immediate review of the Trump Administration’s Public Charge rule. The Children’s Defense Fund of Texas celebrates this essential first step by the Biden Administration toward the reversal of these restrictive and harmful regulations.

The Public Charge rule, which took effect on February 24, 2020, was an effort by the Trump administration to reduce the number of people who are eligible for legal permanent residency (LPR, also called a “green card”), by redefining what it means to be dependent on government benefits, or “likely” to become a “public charge” in the future. This harsh regulation in actuality affects very few green card applicants. But because of widespread fear and misinformation within immigrant communities, the rule has resulted in over a million eligible children losing healthcare and nutritional support over the past few years.

Biden’s EO instructs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Department of State (DOS) to review the public charge regulation, to evaluate its effects, and to take action on this policy’s effect on the immigration system and public health. The EO requires these agencies to submit a report with conclusions and recommendations within 60 days.

The process of undoing a regulation is lengthy and burdensome; we should not expect that public charge will be undone overnight. But we can expect, given the mandate Biden has given the agencies, that the administration is heading toward a reversal of current policy. While we wait for further action, it is important to remember, and to reassure worried families of the following key messages:

  1. Even under the current regulation, public charge affects very few families in Texas.
  2. Your children’s use of programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and CHIP will not negatively affect a parent’s application for a green card. 
  3. Programs like WIC, CHIP-Perinatal, and local health care programs do not count as part of the public charge test. Even within Medicaid, there are exemptions for pregnancy Medicaid, emergency Medicaid, and Medicaid for children under the age of 21.
  4. The public charge test applies *only* to green card applicants. Naturalized citizens, legal permanent residents, and immigrants without a clear path to citizenship do not need to worry about public charge. Many special visa holders (such as U, T, TPS, VAWA petitioners, and more) are also exempt.