"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."
The plain language of the law hardly squares with reports that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has sought to promote the use of food stamps and other welfare programs among newly arrived immigrants. (Legal ones; the law forbids those benefits for illegal immigrants.) In 2004, in the Bush years, the feds even began a partnership with the Mexican government to encourage Mexicans to sign up for government assistance as soon as they arrived in the U.S.
And now, the Obama administration forbids American consular officers from even considering whether a prospective immigrant might end up on dozens of public assistance programs when evaluating that immigrant's admissibility to the U.S. The policy came as a surprise to four top Republican senators when they learned about it last year.
"It has long been a sound principle of immigration law that those who seek citizenship in this country ought to be financially self-sufficient," Sens. Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch, Charles Grassley and Pat Roberts wrote in an August 2012 letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. "We were thus shocked to discover that both the State Department and DHS exclude reliance on almost all governmental welfare programs when evaluating whether an alien is likely to become a public charge."
Specifically, the senators were stunned to discover that while government policy allows an American official to consider whether a prospective immigrant might end up on Supplemental Security Income, or on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, the official cannot weigh whether the immigrant would need more than 70 other means-tested programs: Medicaid, food stamps, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, child care benefits, educational assistance and more than a dozen nutritional programs.