Millions of U.S.-Born Children May Lose Out If Trump Changes Rules for Public Benefits

By Christina A. Samuels — June 19, 2018 3 min read
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Recent debate has been consumed by the Trump administration’s policy toward families trying to cross the country’s southern border.

But another proposal, leaked earlier this year, although not yet finalized, is likely to affect millions of U.S.-born children whose non-citizen parents, in the country legally, are trying to seek permanent residency.

That’s the assessment from a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute on the change being discussed to make it harder for legal immigrants to be approved for public residency if they are deemed a “public charge” for accepting certain benefits. Such benefits include the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or welfare, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or food stamps, and Supplemental Security Income, which helps low-income seniors, as well as blind or disabled people.

Those four are the most-used programs that would be a part of this proposal, although other public benefits would also fall under the public charge determination, such as receiving subsidies through the Affordable Care Act. A very early draft of the administration proposal included Head Start as a public benefit that people seeking permanent residency could be penalized for using. The latest draft, however, specifically states that legal residents won’t be a considered a public charge for sending their children to public school or to Head Start, or to receiving services through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

According to the institute’s analysis of census data collected from 2014-16, children of immigrants accounted for 31 percent of all children under age 18 in families that received the four most-used benefits. That’s about 10.5 million children, 90 percent of whom were born in the United States.

The Trump administration says its goal is to ensure that families seeking permanent residency are self-sufficient.

‘Chilling Effect’ for Immigrant Families

The proposal includes not just current use of benefits, but whether they were used in the previous 36 months, the proposal states.

The net result of the changes, if implemented, the institute said, is that immigrant families who are in the country legally will be less likely to use public benefits, for fear of triggering negative consequences. Children will bear the brunt of this chilling effect because the programs are often aimed specifically at supporting their welfare, the institute said.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Conference of Mayors announced it was joining several groups who have opposed expansion of the “public charge” rule, in part because of the significant impact that the rules would have on cities.

“Such changes would punish families, including the citizen children of immigrants, for using benefits that they are entitled to,” the mayors’ group said in their resolution.

Ajay Chaudry, a co-author of “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality” and a former Obama administration official, said the proposed change “basically says working hard and receiving support while you’re working hard to provide for your children is somehow a threat to others.” Because illegal immigrants are already barred from receiving these services, the proposal seems particularly spiteful, he said.

“These are kids who are born here, who go to school here, in many cases wouldn’t understand why they’re supposed to go hungry and other children aren’t, around some complexity over being considered a public charge.”

Before any changes could be put in place, the proposed rule would have to be published in the Federal Register and go through a public comment period. Jeanne Batalova, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute and a co-author of the report, said its likely the proposal will move forward.

“It is consistent with all other efforts by the Trump administration to reduce immigration and to change the composition of immigrants,” she said.

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