Equity & Diversity

Proposal Could Lead Immigrant Families to Shun Benefits, Advocates Warn

By Christina A. Samuels & Corey Mitchell — October 02, 2018 2 min read
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A proposal from the Trump administration that would make it harder for legal immigrants to gain permanent residency in the United States if they use public benefits may end up harming their children—many of whom are U.S. citizens, advocates say.

According to 2016 data from the Migration Policy Institute, nearly 18 million children under 18 in the U.S. had at least one immigrant parent. About 88 percent of those children were born in the United States, making them citizens.

The administration proposes making it more difficult for a person to earn a green card if that person also receives specific public benefits, such as food stamps, Medicaid, or Section 8 housing assistance. Overall, the changes are intended to ensure a self-supporting immigrant population, said Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, in a statement.

Head Start Concern

An early draft of the rule leaked to the media this year took a broader view of public benefits that could potentially penalize green-card seekers: That draft would have counted as a public benefit programs such as Head Start, subsidies for premiums under the Affordable Care Act, and programs that help low-income families pay energy costs. In addition, green card applicants, in that earlier proposal, would have been evaluated on programs that both they and their immediate family members use.

The current proposal, on the other hand, has a narrower scope. Fewer public benefits are named as being a potentially negative mark on green card applicants. And, applicants would be judged only on benefits that they use themselves. However, more than 1,100 organizations have still signed on to a statement opposing the proposed changes.

Wendy Cervantes, a senior policy analyst on immigration and immigrant families for the Center for Law and Social Policy, said that once rumors started getting out that the Trump administration was considering making it harder for public-benefit recipients to earn green cards, it started a chilling effect.

“We heard directly from parents as well as providers that parents were opting to play it safe and avoid use of public programs out of fear of possibly compromising their immigration status down the road,” she said. Children still stand to suffer if their parents have no access to public benefits that provide health care or housing, she added.

The federal government has long been able to deny permanent residency to a person deemed to be a “public charge,” or supported by the government. Under current practice, cash benefits, such as welfare, and government-funded long-term care were considered in determining whether a person is a public charge.

The proposed expansion would be aimed at legal immigrants, because undocumented immigrants are already ineligible for most public benefits, aside from public education for their children.

The proposed policy change has not yet been officially published, but once it is, it will be open for a 60-day comment period.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which released the proposed changes, is seeking specific comment on whether it should add one more public program to those it has already listed: the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which serves about 9 million children whose families earn too much to receive Medicaid, but who can’t afford insurance for their children on the open market.

CHIP is significantly expensive to the country and is similar to Medicaid, which is listed as one of the potential penalizing programs, says the proposal.

A version of this article appeared in the October 03, 2018 edition of Education Week as Advocates Raise Worry Over Benefits Proposal Involving Immigrants

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