If the President gets his way, poor immigrants living in the United States who have applied for a green card will have to choose between public benefits such as food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid – essentials for many poor families – and being granted legal resident status.
Under a proposed rule change to the “public charge determination,” the Trump Administration would require immigration caseworkers at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to consider the use of public benefits in deciding the fate of immigrants applying to remain legally in the U.S. on a permanent basis. In essence, the proposed rule change would penalize anyone seeking help with food, shelter or medicine because of their financial status.
This latest fear offensive by the President is reprehensible on many fronts.
First, many U. S. residents who are legally eligible to participate in these programs will either unenroll or refrain from enrolling in these programs out of fear that it will jeopardize their ability to stay here permanently and become citizens. This will increase unnecessary financial and medical hardship for families that are already struggling. The rule applies to immigrants of all ages, including children. Second, many vulnerable immigrant families with low-wage jobs will remove their children from assistance programs even if those children are citizens, just to keep their families together. This was precisely the outcome when similar rules were put into place years ago for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Even though the rule did not take into account the use of TANF from household members, families disenrolled everyone out of fear. And third, the progress New York has made in health coverage could stop or be reversed, leaving people without medical care and placing even more financial pressure on the safety net providers like New York City’s Health + Hospitals that never turn any New Yorker away.
It is estimated that more than a million people in New York alone could be harmed by this callous and punitive measure. Congress must act and put a stop to this latest attack on immigrant families. And as for the President, his dismaying disregard for principles of decency is regrettable, but fitting for someone obsessed with using his power to inflict pain on those who are vulnerable.