Publicly Charged: A Critical Examination of Immigrant Public Benefit Restrictions

Cori Alonso-Yoder
Date of Publication: 
February, 2020
Source Organization: 

This essay by Georgetown University Law School Professor Cori Alonso-Yoder explores the racist implications behind the Trump administration’s expansion of the “public charge” doctrine, where an immigrant may be refused a visa on the premise that he/she may become dependent on public assistance in the future.  Questioning the eligibility for public benefits, the author asserts, becomes a proxy for determining who is rightfully “American,” and a “facially neutral pretext” for rejecting people on racial grounds. The doctrine of public charge exclusion developed from colonial times and has reemerged in Trump Administration policies as a means to curtail legal immigration through executive action. While other commentators have questioned the racial implications of welfare reform as they affect Black families, the discriminatory animus behind efforts to kick immigrant families off the rolls has yet to be explored. Drawing on critical examinations of welfare reform that locate race-conscious motivations in the figure of the “welfare queen,” the article examines the rhetorical appeal of the “anchor baby.” By questioning the legitimacy of these children’s birthright citizenship and their use of benefits, proponents of immigration restriction reveal that their exclusionary policies are motivated less by concerns of immigration or economic status and more by fears of racial difference. The legal challenges to this doctrine by broad coalitions of states and organizations based on equal protection and claims of discrimination against non-whites are evidence, according to the author, of the systemic racism in the immigration system today.

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Alonso-Yoder, C. (2020, February). Publicly Charged: A Critical Examination of Immigrant Public Benefit Restrictions. Denver Law Review.