The Invisible Wall: Public Charge Policy Impacts on Immigrant Families

Document Type


Publication Date



The purpose of this essay is to debunk the notion that the Trump administration followed historical precedent in creating a vastly more exclusionary public charge rule and to assert that the over four hundred changes made to immigration law since January 2017, whether currently in effect or not, separate immigrant families and prevent low- and middle-income people from immigrating to the United States. In Part II of this essay, I briefly explore the history of public charge as a basis for inadmissibility to the United States. Next, in Part III, I highlight a few of the over four hundred changes to U.S. immigration law that the Trump administration made, focusing on those that seek to criminalize, target, and exclude immigrant families. In Part IV, I address how — despite federal court orders stopping some of these changes, either temporarily or permanently — the “invisible wall” these changes created instills fear in immigrant communities and results in consequences such as disenrollment from healthcare insurance benefits and reluctance to engage in public social services. I assert that in formulating a significantly more exclusionary definition of public charge, the Trump administration sought to make it impossible for low and middle-income individuals to immigrate to the United States through the family visa process, thereby preventing ordinary people — much like my great-grandfather — from starting a new life in the United States. Finally, in Part V, as we move into the Biden administration, I posit that comprehensive immigration reform must rescind this exclusionary definition of public charge in order to welcome newcomers with dignity and create a fair and humane immigration system.


A Century of Targeting Immigrants: From the Red Scare to the Travel Ban
New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 65, Issue 2 (2020-2021), pp. 197-224