Department of Justice’s Dismissal of its Defense of the Public Charge Rule

Policy and Advocacy
March 12, 2021

On March 9, 2021 the Department of Justice (DOJ) dismissed its defense of the Public Charge rule. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 introduced “public charge” as a way to lower the perceived risk of immigrants developing a dependency on the United States government for support. The policy was expanded through regulatory action under the Trump administration, which created unpredictability regarding access to public safety benefits for food and housing insecure immigrant students. NASPA applauds the Biden administration for expressing support for immigration policy reform, including issuance of Executive Order 14012, which instructed administrative agencies to review current guidance, resulting in this most recent decision. 


Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced in a statement on March 9 that the policy used prior to the public charge rule will go into effect. This means that immigrants can no longer be denied entry to the country or barred from acquiring lawful permanent residency based on the receipt of food, health, and housing benefits that include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, and the House Choice Vouchers program. This is especially critical, given that upwards of 26 million immigrants were estimated to be impacted, and just a few months after the rule was proposed, one in seven adults of immigrant families reported refraining from public benefits. Many of these families have members who learn and work on our campuses and who are supported by student affairs staff. Prior to the pandemic, direct service providers working with immigrant clients reported first hand, the fear and confusion the new rule caused. 


Even with the elimination of the rule, there is still much work to be done. Immigrants can still be denied entry based on the receipt of federal, state, or local cash assistance, like that of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or long-term subsidized care. NASPA advocates for equitable access to higher education for all and supports more flexibility to consider and meet the needs of immigrant students to access federal relief. 

NASPA’s policy priorities have included advocacy for immigrant and undocumented students. We support Illinois Senator Dick Durbin’s reintroduction of the Dream Act of 2021, S. 264 into the 117th Congress. NASPA supports a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and finding a permanent solution to codify Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) into law. NASPA believes that through collective action in prioritizing the rights of marginalized students and student affairs professionals, like Dreamers, we can make a meaningful difference. This discussion continues as part of our 2021 Virtual Conference with sessions like the Public Policy Division Townhall on Tuesday, March 23, from 3:00 to 3:50 p.m. Eastern Time, and through the work of many of our Knowledge Communities.