Sponsors May Be Held Financially Responsible for Immigrant's Use of Public Benefits

President Trump issues new memo directing federal agencies to increase enforcement of Section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act against U.S. sponsors.

By , J.D.


If you are a U.S. citizen or resident who sponsored an immigrant to come the U.S., you are more likely than ever to be held financially responsible if that immigrant faces economic hardship. That's because President Trump issued a new memo in May 2019, directing federal agencies to increase enforcement of Section 213A of the Immigration and Nationality Act. (8 U.S.C. § 1183a.)

Section 213A is the federal law that requires U.S. citizens or residents who sponsor an immigrant to come to the U.S. through a family petition to reimburse the federal government if that immigrant later uses a means-tested public benefit. In the past, this provision of law was rarely enforced against immigrant sponsors.

U.S. citizens or residents who sponsor family members to immigrate to the U.S. must complete Form I-864 (also known as an "Affidavit of Support") as part of the green card process. On this form, the sponsor (and possibly also a co-signer) must demonstrate sufficient income (at or above 125% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines), to financially support the intending immigrant.

Form I-864 is a legally binding contract, under which either the federal government or immigrant can sue the petitioner for financial reimbursement or support.

The sponsor's legal responsibility is significant under the Affidavit of Support, and continues until the immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen, has worked 40 quarters in the U.S. (about ten years), dies, or leaves the U.S. This obligation even continues after a divorce from the U.S. citizen spouse petitioner.

There are two ways that the I-864 can be enforced: either by the immigrant him- or herself against the sponsor, thus seeking direct financial support, or by the federal government for reimbursement of need-based public benefits that the immigrant received.

The immigrant can sue his or her sponsor for financial support up to 125% of the U.S. Poverty Guidelines. The likelihood of this type of enforcement will not change under the new memo because this process is not initiated by the federal government. However, the second type of enforcement, by the federal government, will now be more likely under the terms of the memo.

If a family-sponsored immigrant uses federal government programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the federal government can sue the U.S. sponsor for reimbursement.

Under the new memo, within 90 days, government agencies must establish procedures for notifying sponsors of money owed, collecting reimbursements, and sharing relevant information between federal agencies. U.S. citizens or residents who have sponsored immigrants who now use public benefits can expect a much greater likelihood of enforcement of the Affidavit of Support. Still, no definite plans for enforcement have been established yet, so the chances of being actually targeted for enforcement remain uncertain.

If you are thinking of signing an Affidavit of Support to sponsor an immigrant to come to the U.S., you should use caution, and understand that the agreement is more likely to be enforced than it was in the past.

Effective Date: May 23, 2019