In August 2019, the Trump Administration announced the final version of a new rule seeking to reduce the amount of lawful permanent residents who utilize public benefits, which they are legally entitled to. Under this rule, Immigrants who are or have ever legally used public benefits, or who are considered likely to use public benefits in the future, could be labeled “public charges,” which would prevent them from obtaining green cards. There are few guidelines for determining whether or not a person is likely to use public benefits in the future, leaving much of the discretion up to the judgment of immigration officers. The rule change is set to go into effect on October 15, 2019; however, the City and County of San Francisco have requested that the policy does not go into effect until legal challenges have been ruled upon.
Opponents of the rule believe that this is part of an ongoing attempt to “whiten” America as it would disproportionately impact immigrants from Latin America and Africa, while having a limited impact on European immigrants. According to the Migrant Policy Institute, 81% of immigrants of Latin American origin, 72% of Caribbean origin, and 60% of African origin have at least one factor that would count towards them being labeled a “public charge.”
In addition to altering the racial makeup of those coming to the country, the new rule is already having dramatic health consequences for those in the country. Immigrants across the country are foregoing the public benefits that they are entitled to, such as food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance, out of fear of being classified as a “public charge.”
A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that between 15% and 35% of noncitizens or people living in a household with a noncitizen will disenroll from Medicaid as a result of the rule. As a result, as many as 1.9 million children could stop receiving public benefits, increasing child mortality and disabilities, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics. Even the Department of Homeland Security has admitted that this rule could increase health problems, infectious diseases, school drop-outs, emergency room visits, and poverty.
Furthermore, the administration’s rule will have adverse societal and economic impacts on the nation. The Urban Institute has found that it has caused immigrants to disengage from public life by reducing contact with police, teachers, and health care providers out of fear of being labeled a “public charge.” This disengagement, along with the adverse health impacts, will take an economic toll. According to the New American Economy, the new rule will cost the US economy $164.4 billion due to lost workers and wages.
It is important to note, however, that some of these impacts can be mitigated through education. Many of those who are disenrolling are actually leaving programs that would not adversely affect their chances of obtaining their desired status or are exempt from the rule. For example, the rule will not affect green card holders seeking citizenship, refugees, asylees, or victims of domestic violence. Additionally, emergency medical treatment, care related to pregnancy, and the use of public benefits by family members, unless they are also applying for lawful permanent residence, will not be counted against applicants. Furthermore, even if an applicant is enrolled in a program covered by the rule, it does not automatically mean that they will be designated a “public charge,” although it does make it more likely.