The Public Charge
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Opportunity Council believes that our community’s strength and health depend on everyone having the opportunity to thrive. This includes members of our community who are immigrants with limited income; neighbors who may be seeing a doctor, enrolling a child in preschool, seeking help with housing, and working toward a more hopeful future.
On Oct. 10, the Trump Administration proposed changes to the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration rules about “public charge.” Under the new rule, legally working parents earning minimum wage could face deportation for providing their children with health care and nutritious food.
For the last century, the public charge rule has been narrowly defined. It exists to reduce risk to our welfare system by preventing immigrants from entering or remaining in the country if they are almost entirely dependent upon cash assistance or long-term institutionalized care.
This damaging proposal redefines that long-established policy. It fundamentally changes who can enter and stay in our country.
Under this new rule, a lawfully-residing immigrant who receives assistance from SNAP (food stamps), Medicaid, Medicare Part D, or Section 8 housing assistance can be deemed a “public charge” and denied permanent resident status and the ability to stay in the U.S.
Nearly one in four children in our country have at least one immigrant parent, so this issue touches tens of millions of people.
Under the proposed rule, families will be forced to make terrible choices between accessing programs that promote good health, nutrition, housing and keeping their families together in the U.S.
If adopted, this rule would make—and has already made—many families afraid to seek programs that safeguard their health, nutrition and housing.
Opportunity Council staff in our early learning programs report that some families with foreign-born parents, fearing deportation or family separation, are canceling food assistance and medical coverage for their children, refusing school lunch programs, and withdrawing from publicly funded English language learning programs.
Policies that punish working families for trying to make ends meet are cruel, regardless of one’s immigration status. When it comes to poverty, however, children in immigrant families are disproportionately impacted.
In 2016, 34 percent of Washington children lived in households that struggled to make ends meet. That number was 44 percent for the almost half a million children with one or more foreign-born parents.
The Department of Homeland Security itself acknowledges how damaging this new rule would be. Buried within the text of this 447-page proposal, DHS says that disenrollment or foregoing enrollment by people who are legally eligible for these programs could lead to:
• “Worse health outcomes, including prevalence of obesity and malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants or children
• “Increased use of emergency rooms and emergency care as a method of primary health care due to delayed treatment
• “Increased prevalence of communicable diseases, including among members of the U.S. citizen population who are not vaccinated.”
The proposed rule discounts the contribution of working families: immigrants work hard and pay taxes, which support programs like SNAP, Medicaid and affordable housing. We all pay our share so that if we fall on tough times, there is a safety net that helps us meet our most basic needs, especially in a crisis.
Opportunity Council believes that people with limited income who are eligible for health and safety programs should not be deterred, stigmatized, or penalized with drastic immigration consequences for their legal use of public benefits.
The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comments on this proposal until Dec. 10. To learn more about how you or your organization can stand up for families in opposition to this proposed rule, please visit the Protecting Immigrant Families web site at http://www.protectingimmigrantfamilies.org.
Greg Winter is executive director of Opportunity Council.