Public Charge Law is Rarely Used to Deport Immigrants - Is That About to Change?
(28 Feb 2020) Much in the news this week has been a DHS change that expands the definition of immigrants who can be deemed a "public charge." The principle of excluding immigrants to America who do not meet, or are not perceived to meet, certain standards of self-sufficiency is older than the legal framework of the current immigration system. However, current government records indicate the use of so-called "public charge" provisions has been extraordinary rare in immigration enforcement. Based upon an analysis of internal government case-by-case data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University documents for the first time just how infrequent the use of public charge statutes has been in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts and in Immigration Court proceedings.

Out of over 1.2 million deportations by ICE between fiscal years 2015 and 2019, only 123 people were deported for allegedly violating the public charge rule under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) -- or only 10 out of every 100,000. Public charge-based deportations appear to be on a modest rise despite representing a microscopic fraction of total deportations. In 2015 and 2016 under Obama, there were 4 deportations in every 100,000 for public charge violations. Between FY 2017 - FY 2019 under Trump, this increased to 14 deportations in every 100,000 for public charge violations.

Usage of public charge grounds for removal in Immigration Court proceedings although slightly higher was also exceedingly rare. Out of 4.7 million court cases completed from October 1995 to January 2020, only 13,096 cases cited public charge statutes as a basis for the government seeking removal of the individual - or only 28 out of every 10,000 cases. Less than half of these charges, however, were sustained. In addition, for 90 percent of these cases, the "public charge" claim was included along with one or more other alleged immigration violations. These other charges provided sufficient grounds when sustained to remove the individual irrespective of the "public charge" allegation.

There has been an uptick in "public charge" claims in court proceedings starting in FY 2015. Once President Trump assumed office the number of cases topped 1,000 per year for the first time. But because case completions have also been increasing, the proportion of court cases this represents has actually been falling steadily since FY 2017.

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