Speak Out Now! Proposed Rule Threatens Immigrant Health, Nutrition and Housing

Background: The US has a long-standing rule that persons who are deemed likely to become a “public charge” (permanently and primarily dependent on government support to survive) are not admissible or eligible to become  Legal Permanent Residents (LPR or “green card”).  Currently immigration officials consider whether an individual receives income from government cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or if the individual receives or is likely to receive long-term care benefits under Medicaid.

What’s Changed? Under the proposed rule, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) wants to radically expand the list of programs considered when making a determination regarding public charge; it would include Medicaid, Medicare Part D (low income subsidy), SNAP (food stamps), housing assistance and prescription drug subsidies. Those who are working but earn less than 125% of the Federal Poverty Guideline ($31,375 for a family of four) will also be at greater risk of being rejected.  Note that many who work full time do not meet this income criterion!  

What Are Likely Results? The proposed rules have already created a climate of fear motivating immigrants to disenroll from needed nutrition and health programs. If finalized, millions of documented (legal) immigrants would no longer qualify for green cards unless they forego assistance programs for which they qualify.  Other potential consequences  are described below in the bulleted list.


What Should I Say?   Your comments should be your own or they will not be considered.  However, you can draw from these ideas (but put them in your own words:

  • Millions of immigrant families are mixed-status, including both citizens and non-citizens. If one or more members of such families choose not to use programs they need and for which they are eligible out of fear of putting permanent residence applications at risk, the whole family may suffer from inadequate food, health services or shelter. Out of fear and confusion, many immigrants are already disenrolling from these programs.
  • Denying access to health care for part of our population puts the rest of the population at risk for infectious disease.  
  • Those who suffer serious illness due to inadequate or foregone preventive care may later burden our health care system. Their future earning potential may also be reduced, which has ramifications for the economy. 
  • A quarter of children in the U.S. have at least one immigrant parent and 90% of these children were born here. This new rule would affect millions of children, including those that are U.S. citizens.  Children who suffer poor nutrition and health care in their early years may suffer reduced productivity for the rest of their lives.
  • Use of health, nutrition and housing programs does not predict future dependence on such programs. Those who struggle economically in their early years in the US may temporarily seek such assistance to keep their families well and housed until they can move to better-paying jobs and “outgrow” such public assistance.  The new rule would consider this temporary use a negative factor if it continued beyond just nine months. It would thus be yet another effort to make it harder for working-class families to get ahead.
  • Wealthier immigrants will more easily pass through the LPR process, while poorer immigrants will be punished.  This proposed new rule would create a system that gives legal residence to the highest bidders.
  • It is immoral and cruel to force families to choose between being together and meeting basic needs. Individuals planning to apply for LPR may be afraid to remain in a household where other members are using health, nutrition, or housing benefits.
  • Indirect effects of the proposed expanded definition of public charge include decreased employment and income for health care providers, decreased grocery sales, slowed economic growth  and increased demands on safety-net charities. Indirect effects of causing people to disenroll from these needed programs will adversely affect our whole population and economy. Such effects include decreases in retail grocery sales, decreased employment in the health care system, reduced spending in the economy in general (as families divert more of their earned income to food, housing and health), slower economic growth, and increased demand on safety-net charities.   
  • The proposed rule change would shift our national immigration system away from family-based immigration to one that focuses on well-off, highly-skilled persons, ignoring our long history of immigrants arriving and building a better life for their children and grandchildren. It is short-sighted because it takes a narrow view of who contributes to our economy, culture and society. Fairness and compassion should not be dependent on a person’s race, ethnicity or birthplace.

You can read the full Proposed Rule Here.   

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