Advocates Fear Immigrant Families Could Shun Benefits Under Proposed Trump Rule

By Christina A. Samuels — September 24, 2018 2 min read
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As expected, the Trump administration recently proposed a rule that would make it harder for legal immigrants to gain permanent residency in the United States, or “green cards,” if they receive certain benefits, such as food stamps, Medicaid, or Section 8 housing assistance.

Drafts of the rule that were leaked to the media earlier this year would have also penalized immigrants if their children used certain public benefits. The current proposal, on the other hand, does not do that. Green card applicants would be judged only on benefits they use themselves, not on benefits used by others in their immediate family.

However, Wendy Cervantes, a senior policy analyst on immigration and immigrant families for the Center for Law and Social Policy, said that her organization still has grave concerns about the proposal. 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, CLASP has noted through its own research.

“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,” Cervantes said. Children still stand to suffer if their parents have no access to public benefits that provide health care or to 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 (welfare) and government-funded long-term care were considered in public charge determinations.

The new proposal expands the types of programs that would be considered in public charge determinations. The changes would be aimed at legal immigrants, because undocumented immigrants are already ineligible for most public benefits.

The proposed rule has not yet been officially published, but once it is, it will be open for a 60-day comment period. The Department of Homeland Security, which released the proposed changes, is seeking additional comment on whether use of the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be should be a program that would potentially penalize a green card applicant. CHIP is significantly expensive to the country and is similar to Medicaid, which is listed as one of the potential penalizing programs, said the proposal.

Overall, the changes are intended to ensure a self-supporting immigrant population, said Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security secretary, in a statement.

“This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Early Years blog.