Immigration and Public Charge
By: Molly Z. Kleinman, Summer Intern
Bolour Immigration Group
"Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Anyone who listened to or watched the news recently, has undoubtedly heard those words. On Monday, August 12, the Trump Administration unveiled a policy that takes aim at that core belief. Starting in October, the Administration intends to put immigrants through a "wealth test" before granting them legal permanent resident status. The move is anticipated to essentially restrict immigration to those who were already wealthy before they entered the United States.
While the U.S. government has required immigrants to prove they would not be a "public charge" in the past, the new rule greatly expands what would count against immigrants to include Medicaid and food stamp programs (i.e. SNAP).
According to the Associated Press (AP), the policy not only targets those who have in the past or are currently receiving public benefits, but also anyone who is, "likely to need public assistance in the future."
After the Administration first unveiled this plan, several months ago, tens of thousands of people wrote in to complain. In response, the Administration made some concessions, including wealth standards would not be held against pregnant people and children. However, immigration advocates still warn this could lead immigrants to forego public benefits fearing it would adversely affect their ability to gain permanent residency.
Maria, a five-month pregnant Colombian immigrant spoke to the New York Times. "Maria's husband, a high school teacher, had been off work during the summer break, forcing them to enroll in supplemental nutritional program for women, infants and children, known as WIC, in order to afford food and prenatal care. Though the new rule specifically does not penalize pregnant women for seeking such assistance, she said she feared that it could be used against her anyway. She said she wished she could stop accepting the help.
'I can't,' said Maria, who worked as an industrial engineer in Colombia. 'Right now we need to use it,' she said, adding, 'Whatever happens, the most important thing is that the baby is O.K., right?'"
In addition to humanitarian concerns, experts warn the new policy could adversely affect California's economy. According to the LA Times, Laurel Lucia, director of the healthcare program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, said, "projected lost federal support for Medi-Cal [is] at $1.19 billion and... up to 17,700 California jobs would no longer exist after the changes took effect... 47% of those lost jobs would come from the healthcare sector."
In response to questions, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Kenneth Cuccinelli said, "We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient... That's a core principle of the American dream. It's deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration." Which, if the Statue of Liberty is anything to go by, is blatantly untrue.
The policy is likely to be challenged in court. For now, receiving public benefits will not adversely affect one's ability to gain legal permanent residence or citizenship. If you are currently receiving government assistance, please do not disenroll.