Immigration & Disability

In furthering our mission to advance the lives of people with disabilities, The Coelho Center seeks to empower immigrant communities by providing advocacy and resources tailored to the needs of members of the community with disabilities. The Coelho Center seeks to engage and empower community leaders to advance meaningful policy that creates opportunities for people with disabilities regardless of race, gender or immigration status. The Coelho Center categorically opposes immigration policies that discriminate against people with disabilities and deny them basic human rights. Currently, The Coelho Center is a Protecting Immigrant Families Active Member. You can learn more about Protect Immigrant Families.

The Invisible Wall - Policies That Threaten Immigrant Families

Current Issues: Public Charge

  • Part of federal immigration law for over a hundred years, the “public charge” inadmissibility test was designed to identify people who may depend on the government as their main source of support. If the government determines that a person is “likely at any time to become a public charge” in the future, it can deny a person admission to the U.S. or lawful permanent residence (or “green card” status). (Immigration and Naturalization Act section 212(a)(4), 8 USC 1182(a)(4))

    The DHS regulation now redefines a “public charge” as a non-citizen who receives one or more of the specified public benefits, for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period (such that, for instance, receipt of two benefits in one month counts as two months).  

    When seeking a visa or green card, a forward-looking test is applied - where an immigration officer assesses whether a person is more likely than not to become a “public charge” in the future. This determination is made based on a “totality of circumstances” assessment that considers the applicant’s age, health, family status, income and resources, education and skills, and the validity of an affidavit of support. 

    The regulation treats each of the following negatively in public charge decisions: prior history of benefits receipt, a minimum income threshold (earning less than 125% of the federal poverty level (FPL)), being a child or a senior, having certain health conditions, limited English ability, less than a high school education, a poor credit history, and other factors. The rule also expands the list of public assistance programs that may be considered as negative factors in a "public charge" determination, excluding anyone who is deemed more likely than not to use the enumerated cash, health care, nutrition, or housing programs in the future, as further described below. 

    In addition, the new regulation introduces a new test for non-immigrants seeking extensions of their visas or a change to another nonimmigrant status (e.g., from a student visa to an employment visa),  penalizing those who have used a listed benefit for a designated period of time.

    • Cash Support for Income Maintenance*
    • Non-Emergency Medicaid**
    • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps)
    • Housing Assistance (Public Housing or Section 8 Housing Vouchers and Rental Assistance)

    * Included under current policy as well;  

    ** Exception for coverage of children under 21, pregnant women (including 60 days post-partum

  • ANY benefits not on the included list will not be applied toward the public charge test. Examples include: 

    • Disaster relief
    • Emergency medical assistance
    • Entirely state, local or tribal programs (other than cash assistance)
    • Benefits received by immigrant’s family members
    • CHIP
    • Special Supplemental Nutrition for Women Infants and Children (WIC)
    • School Breakfast and Lunch
    • Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
    • Transportation vouchers or non cash transportation services
    • Non-cash TANF benefits
    • Tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit
    • Advance premium tax credits under the Affordable Care Act
    • Pell grants and student Loans
  • 2.24.2020: The public charge rule goes into effect nationwide while multiple challenges continue through federal courts. For more information about who will be affected by the enforcement of the regulation please visit:

    2.21.2020: In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the final injunction on the public charge rule, imposed by an Illinois District Court. The regulation is scheduled to take effect nationwide on Monday, February 24, 2020 while the litigation proceeds in lower courts. 

    1.30.2020: USCIS Announces Public Charge Rule Implementation will be effective after February 24, 2020 in all states except Illinois. For applications and petitions that are sent by commercial courier (e.g., UPS/FedEx/DHL), the postmark date is the date reflected on the courier receipt.  Learn more.

    1.27.2020: The Supreme Court voted to lift the nationwide injunciton on the proposal imposed by a federal judge in New York while the case develops in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Learn more.

    01.08.2020: An appeals court just ruled against Trump’s public charge rule. The Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation remains blocked nationwide. As a result, the Trump administration remains prohibited from applying the new DHS public charge regulation anywhere. 

    11.25.2019 Disability Rights organizations, including The Coelho Center filed an amicus curie opposing DHS's motion to stay the injunction. See more here Amicus Brief Opposing DHS's Motion for a Stay

    10.15.2019 Courts in Illinois and Maryland issue injunction for the public charge rule with the Federal Court in Maryland holding that a national injunction is approved. 

    10.12.2019 Federal Courts in NY, Washington and California issue preliminary injunction on the public charge rule. Read more. 

    9.19.2019 DHS informed the House Oversight Committee that USCIS would resume consideration of deferred action requests.See September 19th Press Release 

    August 2019 The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy and Innovation joined with over 150 organizations in calling upon USCIS to fully restore deferred action adjudications.  View the document on the American Immigration Lawyers Association here. 

    4.15.2019 Watchdogs Cite Lax Medical And Mental Health Treatment Of ICE Detainees.