Take Action: Harsh Policy Threatens Texas Families

/Take Action: Harsh Policy Threatens Texas Families

“Public charge” rule change would especially harm Texas kids. How to help stop it:

Neither the exact final rule wording nor the exact date of publication is known, but once the proposed rule is published, four kinds of prompt actions will be critical:
1) Submit written comments online opposing the rule (Online tools to submit your comments will be posted here as soon as the rule is published);
2) Public statements opposing the rule from organizations and public officials;
3) Sharing of stories and examples of how the rule will hurt children, schools, businesses, and communities, and shift costs to local governments; and
4) Education and support for Texas’ affected families. To support Texans in taking these actions, CPPP is providing the background material below, plus links to fact sheets and other resources below at How to Help and Get More Information.

Nearly 2 Million Texans Could Lose Health Care, Food, and More under this Harsh Federal Proposal
Texas parents should never have to avoid getting food or medical care for their U.S. citizen children out of fear that accepting help might derail the parent’s ability to complete the path to legal immigration. But this harsh scenario could be a possibility because of a federal proposal relating to what’s called “Public Charge.”

The Trump Administration has directed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to propose a sweeping rule change that could put immigrants and their U.S. citizen children and relatives at risk of being denied a green card if members of their family use programs like Medicaid or food assistance. This callous rule could force millions of Texans—including U.S. citizens and current and prospective legal immigrants—to choose between meeting basic needs like health care and education and the ability of a family member to legally immigrate.

Why This Matters. This proposed rule would affect more than just the individual immigrants seeking legal immigration status. There are an estimated 1.8 million Texas children—24 to 26 percent of all Texas kids—who have at least one parent who is not a U.S. citizen. Experts fear that many of those children – including U.S. citizen children – could lose public health and food assistance for which they lawfully qualify because a parent moving through the legal immigration system might fear that if their U.S. citizen family members access any federal programs, the parent would be denied immigration.

The ripple effects of children and teens going without health care and food would be profound. Schools would face even more hungry students and children with unmet medical and dental needs. More pregnant mothers would avoid or delay accessing prenatal care. Grocery stores would lose business, and food banks and pantries would face overwhelming demand as families turn to them after dropping out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”) or the Women Infants and Children Food and Nutrition Service (WIC).

Understanding the existing “Public Charge” rule. For over a century, the U.S. has been able to deny entry or legal permanent residence to people who are expected to rely principally on the government for their support, or in the language used in an earlier time, are “likely to become a public charge.” Since 1999, U.S. immigration policy has told immigrants seeking a green card (or a visa to enter the U.S.) that their past or future use of public benefits would not be used to deny them a green card or visa, unless they were reliant on the government for cash assistance like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). Government-paid long-term institutional care like nursing homes could also prevent people from earning a green card or visa.

There are two general situations when a prospective immigrant is “tested” or screened to exclude those likely to rely principally on the government for their support:

  1. People inside the U.S lawfully who are seeking to “adjust their status” to legal permanent resident (LPR, often called a “green card”); and
  2. People outside the U.S. seeking a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully. This can include when a green card holder (LPR) has traveled abroad for over 6 months and is seeking re-entry into the U.S.

Two important situations in which people cannot be penalized in the legal immigration system under this rule:

  1. Refugees, asylum-seekers, domestic violence and human trafficking survivors and some other types of humanitarian immigrants are not subject to the “Public Charge” exclusion.
  2. The screening for reliance on government support is not applied when a green card holder goes through the process to naturalize and become a U.S. citizen,[i] under the assumption that they already passed their screening in order to earn a green card.
  3. [i] A legal permanent resident can apply for citizenship after 5 years in LPR status.
Two Big, Harsh Proposed Changes to the “Public Charge” Rule

Under the proposed rule, individual immigrants seeking a green card or a visa would now be judged on:

  1. Their future likely lawful use of a broad range of public services: Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Affordable Care Act Marketplace health insurance subsidies; food, housing, and energy assistance; and even tax credits; and
  2. The future likely lawful use of public services by their family members (spouses and dependent children), including U.S. citizen and green card-holding family members.

How to Help and Get More Information

Texans can help stop this proposal by submitting comments online, encouraging others to make comments, and by encouraging organizations and elected officials to both submit comments and make public statements opposing the draft rule. Here are key links to learn how, and learn more:

Who Would Be Affected: How and Why

To understand the wide reach of this proposed “Public Charge” rule, it’s important to remember that the rule doesn’t just affect the individual immigrant applying for a green card or visa. It also affects their family members, who are primarily U.S. citizens, and in some cases may be green card holders (LPRs) themselves. Though family members of a parent who has not yet gained Legal Permanent Residence are likely feel the greatest pressure to drop healthcare and hunger supports, even parents with a green card may have legitimate fears under the proposed rule. Here are some of the reasons why.

A body of research over the last 20 years shows that eligible U.S. citizens who live in families that also include a non-citizen have been significantly less likely to access health care and food than children and adults who do not have a non-citizen family member.

Across the U.S. and in Texas since late 2016, providers have reported a strong increase in aversion to using health and hunger benefits. In Texas, SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) enrollment declines, reduced public clinic use (including reduced prenatal care), and upticks in newborns with problems have all surfaced across the state. [ii]

Different kinds of families would be affected. Affected families would encompass a broad range of situations, from families who are already in a process to sponsor the legal immigration of a loved one in the near term, to others who—because of the long U.S. waiting lists for legal family-based immigration—plan to gain legal status but who may have to wait years for their “turn.” This would include some parents with a family living in the U.S., but who are themselves living in their home country awaiting a visa to enter the U.S. Some families who know they must wait for years for their legal chance to immigrate live apart, while others choose to work “in the shadows” in the U.S. because of the long wait for a chance to enter lawfully.

Some families in which the non-citizen parent already has a green card (Legal Permanent Resident or LPR status) would be affected by the proposed rule as well. For some, the choice to have children continue to receive health care or food benefits could mean they can no longer travel to their home country to visit family, because of the possibility that the new “Public Charge” policy could be applied to them when they try to re-enter the U.S.

Fear, confusion, and misunderstanding would increase the numbers affected. Under current law, a green card holder would not be deported merely for using public benefits, but an immigrant who “becomes a public charge” within their first five years in LPR status must be able to demonstrate that they did not hide in some way the cause of their need for benefits order to gain entry to the U.S..

Also, one leaked draft of this proposed rule included a blank placeholder for deportation provisions, raising the concern that the final published rule may make as-yet-unknown changes to the terms under which an LPR or an undocumented adult may be deported.

Connecting the Dots

The intersection of immigration law and public benefits law is complex. Here are some additional implications of the proposed federal rule that may not be immediately obvious:

  • It is designed to discourage legal immigration, by penalizing the U.S. citizen and LPR family members of a prospective immigrants for using health care, hunger, and other basic needs services they are lawfully qualified for. In this way, it is designed to undermine the U.S. system of family-based immigration, potentially having a major impact without getting Congress to change those laws.
  • It would create de facto “second-class citizens” by forcing some U.S. citizen children to go without the health care and food supports that all other similarly situated U.S. citizen children are free to use.

Related Reading:

Potential Effects of Public Charge Changes on Health Coverage for Citizen Children; May 18, 2018, https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/potential-effects-of-public-charge-changes-on-health-coverage-for-citizen-children/

Nearly 20 Million Children Live in Immigrant Families that Could Be Affected by Evolving Immigration Policies, April 18, 2018, https://www.kff.org/disparities-policy/issue-brief/nearly-20-million-children-live-in-immigrant-families-that-could-be-affected-by-evolving-immigration-policies/

Nearly Half of All Non-citizens in U.S. Could Be Affected by Proposed Trump Administration Public Charge Rule, Up from Current 3 Percent: U.S., State Estimates of Benefits Use by Noncitizens, Naturalized Citizens & U.S. Born Migration Policy Institute.

Trump “Public Charge” Rule Would Prove Particularly Harsh for Pregnant Women and Children, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

[ii] See Deporting People from Churches, Schools and Hospitals Is Bad for Texas; https://forabettertexas.org/images/HW_2017_SensitiveLocations.pdf for a list of media reports on this topic.