Frontera Fund News Trump Watch

Trump Administration Drafting Change of Policy to Target Those Who Use Public Benefits

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Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

In another of its multiple attacks on immigrants, the Trump administration is considering making changes in policy that would make it harder for immigrants seeking permanent residency if they or their American-born children have used non-cash public benefits. It’s one more move in a continuous effort to restrict legal immigration.

This policy seeks to classify immigrants as a burden to society, which will preclude them from legalizing.

U.S. immigration law has required agents to exclude a person likely to become a “public charge” from permanent residence.

These considerations are not targeting green card holders but immigrants seeking permanent residency.

The change in policy, which was reported exclusively by Reuters, has not been officially announced.

According to Reuters,  this policy change would allow immigration agents to scrutinize the immigrant’s past access to public benefits – even services for their American citizen children such as preschool programs for low-income families.

Other services that would preclude immigrants from permanent residency include receiving tax-funded health subsidies, help paying utility bills, food stamps, etc.

The policy in place since 1999 prohibits authorities from considering immigrants’ access of non-cash benefits when evaluating eligibility for legalization.

The new document states: “Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the U.S. government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organizations.” “An alien’s receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for aliens to immigrate to the United States.”

Among the benefits singled out in the draft are: health insurance subsidies such as those provided by the Affordable Care Act (ACA); the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); WIC, a federal program that feeds poor pregnant or nursing women and their children; transportation and housing vouchers; programs that help the poor pay their heating bills; and programs such as Head Start, which provides early education to low-income children.

Some benefits would not be considered in making the “public charge” determination under the new draft, such as emergency or disaster relief, public health assistance for immunizations, attending public school, receiving free or reduced-price school lunches, and earned benefits such as disability insurance, Medicare, and unemployment payments.

This is just another lawsuit waiting to happen since, among other issues, U.S. citizen children are entitled to benefits and protections.

Moreover, the draft policy may create confusion and thus public health risks among the immigrant population and thus, the general population. Imagine parents, afraid to approach public services, stopping vaccinating their children. Or pregnant mothers skipping critical prenatal care to avoid federal scrutiny.

“It’s going to scare a lot of people into yanking their children off of needed health care, school programs, child nutrition programs, basic sorts of subsistence-level programs that have kept the population healthy and employable,” said Charles Wheeler, director of training and legal support at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

It won’t be easy to make these changes in policy. This could be another instance where lawsuits spring up to defend the rights of American citizens. We will keep you informed.