Public Charge Statement

On September 22, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed a change to immigration policy that dramatically broadens the definition of “public charge,” allowing immigration officers to deny legal residency to immigrants who have used public benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps. Before this change can be finalized, the administration is required by law to respond to every unique public comment they receive about the proposed regulation. The 60 day public comment period runs through December 10, 2018. The Mount Sinai Human Rights Program condemns this discriminatory policy change and urges other medical students and healthcare professionals to do the same by submitting a public comment.

The “public charge” rule dates back to the 1880s but until now, this has been narrowly  defined as a person who is likely to receive cash-welfare payments from the government of more than 50% of that person’s income. Widening the definition of “public charge” to include people who benefit from non-cash government programs such as health insurance and food stamps affects a much larger group of people and has tremendous public health implications.

This policy change will require immigrants already living in the United States to choose between their welfare and their residency status. Many will withdraw from government assistance programs out of fear that it will jeopardize their chances for obtaining a green card. This will endanger the lives of countless immigrant families, who will be reluctant to seek essential services like primary care, and may also place other people’s lives at risk. If diseases that are easy to treat are left undiagnosed because of lack of care, or if immigrants are not able to access vaccines and preventative medicine, then the prevalence of medical emergencies will increase and infectious diseases may spread within and beyond the immigrant community leading to public health crises.

Redefining “public charge” in this way is not only morally reprehensible and medically unsafe– it is also fiscally irresponsible. The DHS claims that this proposed policy change will save Washington $2.3 billion a year. However, as Mount Sinai CEO Ken Davis points out, this is “a small sum compared to the proposal’s long term costs, all measured in damage done to broader public health.”

Every day at the Mount Sinai Human Rights Program, we provide medical and psychological evaluations for survivors of torture and human rights abuse, write medical affidavits documenting this abuse, and ensure access to care and support services for immigrants seeking asylum. While the new definition of “public charge” does not include asylum seekers, we worry that this policy will discourage asylum seekers like those we serve from utilizing services to which they are entitled because they misconstrue the law as pertaining to them. This proposed change is one within a series of anti-immigrant actions taken by this administration in the last few months, including the recent 90-day entry ban on anyone trying to seek asylum at a place other than a point of entry.

Please join us in objecting to this policy change before the public comment period ends on December 10. Submit a public comment about the proposed change here.

For comprehensive information about this ruling, we suggest the following resources:

Response to Attorney General Sessions’ June 11th Decision for Asylum Seekers

This Monday, June 11th, 2018 Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned the precedent set by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) four years ago and issued a deeply upsetting decision in the Matter of A-B- case, preventing asylum seekers who are survivors of domestic and gang violence in their home countries from seeking protection and asylum in the U.S. On behalf of the Mount Sinai Human Rights Program, we join judges and fellow immigrant rights advocates across the country who are condemning Attorney General Sessions’ decision and taking action against it.

Specifically, Sessions reversed the BIA’s’ grant of asylum to a Salvadoran domestic violence survivor in a case known as Matter of A-B-. Ms. A.B. fled to the United States after suffering 15 years of brutal violence at the hands of her ex-husband. He beat and kicked her, including while she was pregnant; bashed her head against a wall; threatened her with death while holding a knife to her throat and while brandishing a gun; and threatened to hang her.

Under U.S. and international law, our country is obligated to provide refuge to people like Ms. A.B. who suffer persecution in places where the state is either unable or unwilling to intervene and offer protection. In ruling against Ms. A.B., Sessions overturned the BIA’s decision of 2014, which affirmed that domestic violence survivors are members of a particular social group that have been persecuted, and that they are deserving of protection. In his decision Sessions makes the disturbing statement that, in accordance with his opinion, asylum claims “pertaining to domestic violence” should “generally” no longer be approved. See his full statement here.

At the Mount Sinai Human Rights Program, we provide medical and psychological evaluations for survivors of torture and human rights abuse, write medical affidavits documenting this abuse, and ensure access to continuity care and ongoing support to people like A.B. everyday. We often find ourselves listening to stories like hers, which seem unimaginable; stories of trauma, of abuse, of torture, and most of all, of resilience. As medical experts in these cases, we document psychological and physical scars and attest to the traumas that clients have experienced, which often make their return to their home country decidedly life-threatening. And as human beings we feel, personally, the obligation that this country provides protection to those who have suffered greatly and are at great risk if returned back to their countries of origin. We find Sessions’ decision to be shameful and immoral.

To stand with us and take action against this decision, we urge you to take advantage of this toolkit provided by the CCRG (Center for Gender and Refugee Studies) and to speak out against this action.



The MSHRP uses its advocacy capacity to mobilize students and faculty to promote interventions that enhance human rights and social justice. In collaboration with coalitions and partners our program engages in community outreach to survivors, strives to empower them, and ensures that their voices are heard through just and sustainable policies on asylum and immigration detention.  Some of our partners are the NYC Refugee and Asylee Health Coalition (NYCRAHC), the Cara Project, and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).