immigration green card flag
Washington CNN  — 

A controversial Trump administration proposal that would make it more difficult for immigrants who’ve received some public benefits to get green cards moved one step closer to becoming reality on Wednesday, but the public still has a chance to weigh in.

The proposed rule was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, initiating a 60-day period for the public to submit comments. The Department of Homeland Security is required by law to review the comments and address substantive ones before issuing a final rule.

If the rule is unchanged and survives widely expected legal changes, it could mark a sea change that allows far more immigrants to be rejected from the US or force them to choose to forgo benefits that they or family members would otherwise be eligible to receive.

The proposal would expand the definition of the “public charge” provision, a concept that dates back at least to the Immigration Act of 1882 and is defined as someone who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance, meaning it supplies more than half their income.

But it only counted cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security.

The proposed rule, announced in September, would expand the public charge concept to include more widely used benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance and the Medicare drug subsidy for low-income seniors.

It would also vastly expand what’s considered a “public charge,” to anyone who accepts the benefits that are equivalent to at least 15% of federal poverty guidelines. Under current levels, that would equate to roughly $1,800 a year, or $150 a month in assistance.

On Tuesday, more than 20 Senate Democrats signed a letter urging Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to withdraw the proposal.

“Under current immigration law, immigrants are already required to prove that they will not be a burden on our country – they must show they have adequate means of financial support and they cannot be dependent on cash assistance from the government,” the senators wrote. “If this rule goes into effect, hardworking families will try to make ends meet with less – hurting children – for no other reason than to advance this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”

CNN’s Catherine Shoichet and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.