Guest post by Claudia Calhoon, MPH, Director of Health Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition.
A new proposed rule from the Trump administration promises to undermine the health and well-being of lawfully residing immigrants and their U.S. citizen children by forcing them to choose between benefit programs and getting a green card. The new rules would penalize lawfully residing immigrants who participate in programs like SNAP (formerly food stamps), the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC), health insurance, and the Earned Income Tax Credit by radically expanding the definition of who is considered to be dependent on the government or a “public charge”. The rule would broaden the criteria by which someone is designated as a public charge, moving from describing public charge as being “primarily dependent” to being “likely at any time to use or receive one or more public benefits.” The rule would increase the benefit categories that trigger public charge consideration to include non-cash benefits and programs. (Currently just cash assistance and care in a long-term care facility that is paid for by Medicaid prompt public charge scrutiny.)
The rule would also give much greater discretion to immigration officers in assessing whether immigrants applying for a visa or a green card may be likely to use public benefits in the future. People who receive even periodic or one-time support with food, housing, or health insurance could lose their opportunity to become lawful permanent residents, based on one episode of unemployment. Parents could also be penalized for having applied for benefits for their US citizen children. Given that lawfully residing immigrants are entitled to participate in these programs by law, punishing parents for using these benefits is especially perverse. Advocates like the National Immigration Law Center believe that the administration is undertaking these changes in order to restrict and discourage family integration through administrative channels.
This rule represents a far-reaching and insidious effort to destabilize immigrant communities in the United States. Damage has already been done. News reports of the rule have already instilled hesitation among lawfully residing immigrant New Yorkers about using health insurance and WIC. If finalized as proposed, the rule could lead to large scale disenrollment from health insurance and other critical social programs, which can cause delays in seeking health care, and increases in economic instability. Delays in health care, food insecurity, and economic instability create long-term challenges for children and families over the course of their lifetimes. Because New York State has committed to providing needed benefits that are not offered nationwide, New York families stand to lose more, and New York State policy makers will be faced with steeper and more profound public policy challenges than other states.
It is important to note that many individuals and families are not subject to public charge, and that this cannot be changed through the regulatory process. These include refugees, asylees, survivors of crime and other immigrants and green cards holders with humanitarian protections who are seeking citizenship. When speaking to families, it is also important to note that the rules have not changed yet. The proposed rule indicates that use of benefits before the rule is approved will NOT be considered, so there is no advantage to terminating benefits at this time for individuals currently receiving public assistance.
What can be done to stop this? Several Health Care for All New York members, including the New York Immigration Coalition, are helping foster efforts to impact the rulemaking process and educate communities. On Thursday, March 29, the U.S. Citizen and Immigrations Services (USCIS) sent the draft rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Advocates believe that it is similar to the version that was leaked most recently and anticipate that the rule will be posted for public comment in the Federal Register shortly, with a comment period of either 30 or 60 days. When the rule is posted, public comment from a wide variety of stakeholders and constituencies will be essential to slowing the rule and mitigating the damage it poses to immigrant communities. If you would like to contribute a public comment, please email Max Hadler at firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the NYIC’s Health Collaborative listserv, where the NYIC we will share updates on the rule’s progress. Along with many partners, the NYIC is working on community education materials and trainings for service providers and will share more information about those resources as they are ready. You can also join the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign led by the National Immigration Law Center and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) to keep up to speed on efforts to fight the rule at the federal level.