Over the weekend, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed sweeping changes to the so-called “public charge” rule that would block many immigrants to enter or gain permanent residency in the United States.
When immigrants enter the US or apply to change their residency status, the US government has long considered whether immigrants are likely to become dependent on government benefits. The current rule already considers the use of cash benefits—like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Security Income—in determining who may become a “public charge.”
Historically, this rule has often been abused to exclude people with disabilities and other health conditions, single mothers and their children, refugees, and other prospective immigrants considered by the US government to be “undesirable” based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status. This time, the rule change is so radical that if the test were applied to US citizens, nearly one-third would ‘fail,’ according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The changes DHS is proposing would drastically expand the scope of the public charge rule to cover use of “one or more public benefits” by an immigrant. Those public benefits would include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); Section 8 housing vouchers and other forms of housing assistance; Medicaid; and Medicare Part D. DHS is considering whether to weigh participation in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) against immigrants applying for a change in status, though CHIP is not included in the current draft.
This proposal threatens to scare families away from health-supporting programs they’re legally entitled to access. In our current political climate, even the threat of a change in policy undermines health and wellbeing. For months, immigrant families have been dropping out of government programs like SNAP and CHIP in fear of attracting government scrutiny should this rule change go into effect. If the rule change is adopted, more families will be driven away from healthcare, food assistance, and other resources that they are legally entitled to access—resources that are critical in supporting health and wellbeing.
The rule change would also further bias the US immigration system against working-class immigrants. It favors immigrant families that earn more than 250% of the federal poverty level while penalizing those who live under 125% of the poverty level, a move that threatens to block most working-class immigrants from gaining permanent residency in the US. People with physical or mental health conditions that potentially interfere with their ability to earn an income would also face stricter scrutiny if this rule changes becomes law.
We can’t separate this latest move from the administration’s overall anti-immigrant agenda: separating immigrant families, ramping up immigration enforcement, ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, undermining the asylum process, launching a “denaturalization” taskforce, and other actions that are inflicting trauma on a vulnerable community, with severe consequences for the health, safety, and wellbeing of millions of people. No one should be forced to choose between meeting their basic needs for food, healthcare, and housing, and remaining in the US with their families.
It’s not too late to stop this rule change from going into effect. Here’s what you can do:
- Learn more about how this rule change would affect immigrant families by visiting the Protecting Immigrant Families website, where your organization can access talking points, sample comment letters, and other resources.
- Submit comments expressing your opposition once the rule is posted in the Federal Register, which we expect to happen over the coming days or weeks.
- Share this blog post with your friends and colleagues and ask them to take action.
- Contact your policymakers and ask them to speak out publicly against this rule change.
- Write a letter to the editor opposing this rule change (you can adapt what’s written here or materials shared by Protecting Immigrant Families and other advocacy groups) and send it in to your local newspaper.