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The “public charge” doctrine – meaning that a person likely to have to be supported by taxpayers (a public charge) should not be permitted to immigrate – is one of the oldest elements of American immigration policy. Colonial Massachusetts enacted the earliest public charge law in 1645, while the first immigration law at the federal level, in 1882, likewise excluded immigrants who were likely to become a burden on taxpayers.
But then as now, the main question is how to define public charge.