The “Gang of Eight” immigration bill would initially exempt undocumented immigrants from an existing law that prohibits legal entry or status adjustments to any immigrant who is at risk of becoming a public charge, or primarily reliant on government benefits for survival.
“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,” reads section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, commonly known as the public charge statute.
However, the immigration bill crafted over several months by a bipartisan group of eight senators and unveiled last week explicitly prevents this section from applying to undocumented immigrants initially seeking provisional legal status.
Section 245B(b)(3) of the new immigration bill reads:
(A) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subparagraph (B), an alien is
ineligible for registered provisional immigrant status if the
Secretary determines that the alien—
”(i) has a conviction for—
”(III) 3 or more misdemeanor offenses (other than minor traffic
offenses or State or local offenses for which an essential element was
the alien’s immigration status or a violation of this Act) if the
alien was convicted on different dates for each of the 3 offenses;
”(ii) is admissible under section 212(a), except that in determining
an alien’s admissibility—
”(I) paragraphs (4), (5), (7), and (9)(B) of section 212(a) shall not apply;
Paragraph (4) is the public charge provision.
This does not mean the bill would put out a welcome mat for undocumented immigrants to go on welfare. Immigrants granted provisional legal status are ineligible for public benefits under this legislation, and public charge evaluations do apply later on their path to legal permanent status.
Nevertheless, with the potential cost of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants a concern among opponents of the immigration reform legislation, the elimination of the public charge statute at the beginning of the process is a red flag to some critics.