Publication Date

Fall 2020


New regulations[1] recently issued on the public charge ground of immigrant inadmissibility makes more crucial than ever the need to determine which non-U.S. citizens are and are not eligible for certain public assistance programs. The doctrine known as "PRUCOL," or permanently residing under color of law, establishes public benefit eligibility for non-U.S. citizens in several jurisductions. The doctrine's lack of statutory definition and inconsistent application in the case law makes it notoriously difficult for practitioners and benefit programs to identify who is and is not PRUCOL. For the non-U.S. citizens applying for benefits, and their advocates practicing at the intersection of immigration and public benefits law, attempting to apply the vague doctrine can produce ambiguous results. The doctrine also allows for creative and novel legal solutions to emerge, which is best seen in recent advocacy in New York to ensure that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients have access to Medicaid despite the uncertainty of the immigration program's future.[2] This article discusses the legal arguments used to ensure Medicaid coverage for DACA recipients and potential for legal and policy advocacy on a local level. This piece organizes the PRUCOL case law into discrete categories of PRUCOL status that functions as a guide for determining PRUCOL eligibility for unemployment, health care, cash assistance, and food stamp benefits. The discussion includes application of the PRUCOL doctrine to navigate related issues such as chronic illness among benefit recipients and the public charge ground of inadmissibility. The hope is to provide a practitioner’s guide to an otherwise opaque legal doctrine and to explore legal arguments that push the boundary of the law.

[1] At the time of publishing, eight lawsuits challenging the new regulations were still pending. Center on Budget & Policy Priotities & Mass. Law Reform Inst., Public Charge Litigation Tracker available at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1gdbxw6wusU_4ZIeAAYG_Qu8qrZs-uHrt_PLBMa4gMT8/edit#gid=1746889895 (last visited May 9, 2020).

[2] Co-author of this article, Sarika Saxena, was the lawyer for the Coverage for All Coalition who strategized the legal arguments to successfully persuade Governor Cuomo’s office to ensure Medicaid eligibility for DACA recipients.


Steven Sacco is grateful to the clients and colleagues at the African Services Committee and Legal Aid from whom he has learned so much about this area of law. Sarika Saxena thanks the clients that she had the privilege of representing and colleagues, including interns, whose support and encouragement has been instrumental in her understanding of this area of law.

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