Yesterday, Vox published a leaked version of a new regulation that seeks to limit legal immigrants’ access to public benefits. In sum, the rule would empower immigration officials to deny immigrants’ applications for certain visas or green cards if they are considered likely to utilize available social services.
The regulation essentially gives immigration officials a structural racism roadmap, labeling immigrants as a “public charge” if they or their dependents (often their U.S.-born children) utilize needed benefits. The most likely effect of the revised rule is that it will scare immigrants away from using benefits they are legally eligible for, and undermine the ability of immigrant families to protect the health and well-being of themselves and their children.
So what is considered a public benefit?
According to the Trump administration’s draft rule, the list of what is considered a “public benefit” is far-reaching and includes:
- Cash benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
- Head Start’s educational and developmental supports
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage
- Financial help to purchase health coverage on the marketplace
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assistance
- Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) assistance to ensure healthy pregnancies and breastfeeding
- Some housing support and low-income supports for home heating
- Transportation vouchers or support
If a person uses any of the aforementioned services to access food, housing, health care or transportation to keep their families secure and healthy, they could be denied a new visa or green card. The new rule does exempt refugees and people seeking asylum from the public charge test.
Immigrants have limited options in avoiding the public charge designation. For example, they can ask another individual to sign an “affidavit of support,” where the signee promises to support them if they fall below 125 percent of the federal poverty level. However, officials can dismiss the affidavit at their discretion. A second option for immigrants is to pay the government a $10,000 bond in exchange for removal of their public charge designation. The Department of Homeland Security would have discretion in accepting the bond and if the individual uses any public benefits over the next five years, they forfeit the $10,000 bond to the government. This policy invites corruption and discrimination.
Why does the public charge test matter?
The Trump administration’s view on immigration is quite clear throughout the leaked document: immigrants are not welcome in this country. The willingness to jeopardize the health and well-being of families and young children in an effort to set up extensive rules that would codify racism and deny many individuals needed supports is unconscionable. Speaker Ryan naming Trump’s support as a condition for a Dreamer solution calls into question his own commitment to protect Dreamers and to anti-immigration policies more broadly.
Finally, in addition to the specific anti-immigrant content of this proposal, we have to note that the public charge test is part of a larger Trump administration effort to stigmatize and limit access to benefits for low- and moderate-income people. This administration is taking aggressive action to accelerate systemic barriers to Medicaid coverage through “work requirements” and other tests that aim to reduce the use of public benefits and services. They are messaging these tests as extending dignity to underserved individuals but in reality they are simply a judgment portfolio, denying those who are struggling day-to-day to meet their health and wellness needs as unworthy.
We are better than this.
The Trump administration’s leaked plans would inflict acute pain on women and children of immigrants and would create a chilling effect — deterring people from seeking medical care when they need it most. Consumer health and social justice advocates can play an active role in protecting immigrant families who are being targeted by the White House and Congress. By exploring ways to collaborate with local groups supporting immigrant families and elevating how devastating this rule change would be for your constituencies, your organization can help complement ongoing efforts led by immigrant rights groups. Community Catalyst has worked closely with national partners leading the fight to protect immigrant families. We recognize that it is important to educate and inform our partners, stakeholders and community leaders about the important contributions immigrants make, and how the actions of this administration and its allies in Congress are not only bad for immigrant families, but for the country as a whole.