Statement from Stacy Cervenka, Director of Public Policy, American Foundation for the Blind

WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 19, 2019)—On Wednesday, August 14, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a new regulation which expands the criteria under which DHS can deny applications for U.S. entry or green card status. Under this new regulation, referred to as “Public Charge,” applicants for legal permanent resident status will not be able to “depend on public resources to meet their needs.” This means that any immigrant who receives, or could be eligible for, programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), most forms of Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), housing vouchers, or rental assistance could be denied entry to the United States, permanent residency, or citizenship.

According to the US census, as many as 60% of adults aged 18 to 64 with a “severe disability” and 24% of adults with a “non-severe disability” receive some form of public assistance. Therefore, in practice, this rule would make it substantially harder for anyone with a disability or chronic health condition to enter, establish residency, or earn citizenship to the United States. The rule would also dissuade people who have immigrated to the US legally from applying for life-sustaining public services, for fear of having their green card applications denied.

Parents will be less likely to apply for food assistance, which will result in children going hungry. Research has consistently shown that hungry children do less well in school and are therefore more likely to be underemployed or unemployed as adults. People who need medical care will be less likely to apply for Medicaid, resulting in more uninsured people dying, suffering preventable health complications, and filling up emergency rooms.

Legal immigrants with disabilities will be unable to apply for and receive needed services to find and maintain employment. Most blind job seekers at some point utilize their state’s vocational rehabilitation agency, which provides people with disabilities with the technology, training, and/or job placement services they need to enter the workforce. In order to receive these services, one must generally have an immigration status allowing employment. If an immigrant is unable to apply for that status, they are prevented from getting the technology and services they need to become employed and almost assuredly sentenced to a life of unemployment and poverty - which is entirely contradictory to DHS' professed intention to ensure that immigrants are self-sufficient.

This policy also ensures that older people are more likely to be barred from legal residency or citizenship, since they are very likely to utilize at least some form of public assistance. Older adults who lose vision later in life will be unable to receive services to remain independent in their homes and communities. Should they need to enter a nursing home, they could risk deportation or denial of citizenship due to relying on Medicaid funding to pay for the nursing home, as an estimated 64 percent of Americans do.

Disability rights organizations, healthcare organizations, and groups representing senior citizens have expressed to DHS that this policy will have a tremendous adverse impact on people with disabilities, people with health conditions, and older adults. Instead of taking these concerns seriously and working with the disability, healthcare, senior citizens’, and immigrants’ rights advocates to develop a more equitable and humane approach, DHS responded as follows:

"To the extent that this rule, as applied, may result in negative outcomes for certain groups, DHS notes that it did not codify this final rule to discriminate against aliens based on age, race, gender, income, health, and social status, or to create an “ageist” system that selectively favors wealthy, healthy, and highly educated individuals. Rather, this rule is intended to better ensure that aliens subject to this rule are self-sufficient.”

Yet, DHS also states that it “considers any disability or other medical condition in the public charge inadmissibility determination to the extent the alien's health makes the alien more likely than not to become a public charge at any time in the future.” Thus, it acknowledges that this rule will negatively impact people with disabilities, people with health conditions, and senior citizens, and makes no substantial effort to limit or remove such discriminatory effects in this regulation.

The American Foundation for the Blind strongly condemns this unethical and inhumane policy. We urge the Department of Homeland Security to work closely with disability, healthcare, senior citizens’, and immigrants’ advocacy groups to either retract this regulation or amend it substantially, so that the American dream remains accessible to all.

Statements issued by other disability and healthcare organizations:

American Academy of Pediatrics

The Arc

Autistic Self-Advocacy Network

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

National Federation of the Blind


About The American Foundation for the Blind
Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. AFB mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. AFB is proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. Visit: