LAS MILPAS – The Trump Administration’s plan to reinterpret a previously arcane rule known as “public charge” would have a “chilling effect” on 24 million people in the United States, including 9 million children under 18 years old, according to a new report.

These are people in families with at least one non-citizen, and receiving one of the named benefits. In both cases, the large majority of the impacted kids are U.S. citizens. 

The report has been released by the Fiscal Policy Institute, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research and education organization committed to improving public policies and private practices to better economic and social conditions.

David Dyssegaard Kallick

FPI’s report says the new interpretation would “radically restrict access to green cards and various types of visas for immigrants who do not have a high enough income, or who have used public health, food, or housing supports they are otherwise qualified to receive.”

Without input from Congress, the Trump Rule would “fundamentally change this country’s approach to immigration, making income and use of public supports central considerations in whether or not to offer people an opportunity to make their lives in this country.”

The direct effect would fall on people applying for a green card or certain visas, but the chilling effect would be vastly greater, according to David Dyssegaard Kallick, deputy director of the Fiscal Policy Institute and author of the report.

Dyssegaard Kallick said many families would very predictably be frightened and confused by the rule. He said these are people in families with at least one non-citizen, and receiving one of the named benefits. In both cases, the large majority of the impacted kids are U.S. citizens. 

“After seeing the Trump Administration use the forced separation of kids from the parents at the border as an appalling tactic in immigration enforcement, it is disturbing to see the mistreatment of kids being used again to put pressure on immigrant families,” Dyssegaard Kallick said. “The stakes are unbearably high. Parents who apply for health care coverage or food support for which they are qualified will feel like they risk being separated from their children.” 

Dyssegaard Kallick said the rule change would not apply to all non-citizens. Nor would it apply to people born in the United States. 

“We shouldn’t be looking down on people who use the safety net, whether they are immigrants or born in this country” Kallick said. “The safety net is there to help people through hard times, so they can get back up and pursue their American Dream.” 

Only some of the people experiencing the chilling effects would go so far as to disenroll from programs they are are otherwise qualified to receive, Dyssegaard Kallick said.

FPI modeled three scenarios: if 15, 25, and 35 percent of those experiencing the chilling effect disenroll. Using the middle scenario, we could expect a $12 billion reduction in supports to families around the country, and on top of that negative ripple effects through the economy of up to $24 billion as hospitals and doctors’ offices see reduced revenues and people buy less in supermarkets and other stores. The economic impact would vary depending on the overall state of the economy, but in a recession, when the programs have their biggest positive effect, up to 164,000 jobs could be lost. 

“The Trump Rule is a disturbing attempt to rewrite our nation’s history,” says Kallick. “Immigrants come here to make a better life for themselves and their children. They are ambitious and hard working and entrepreneurial, but they’re not usually wealthy. It’s after immigrants get here that they start to do better, and some of them do great. That’s the genius of America. It’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.” Click here to read the new report.

Click here to read the Fiscal Policy Institute report.

Rio Grande Valley perspective

Eddie Anaya, an executive committee member for Valley Interfaith.

Community organizations and immigration lawyers in the Rio Grande Valley said they were dreading the Trump Administration’s change to the Public Charge rule. They say such a rule change would punish undocumented immigrants who want to seek legal residency if they ask for benefits for their U.S.-born children.

“We are understanding they will publish in the federal registry the changes for people who want to apply for immigration cases or for residencies and they may affect the people who are receiving public benefits such as food stamps, housing, Medicaid etc.,” said Eddie Anaya, executive committee member of Valley Interfaith.

Anaya pointed out that the proposed rule change does not require congressional approved. He said the Department of Homeland Security could begin to apply the new rule after a public comment period.

“We have 60 days to contradict, send documents or something in writing opposing this policy change. We are working with our community to send these opinions saying that we do not want changes that will affect all of our families,” Anaya said.

“The families are going to have to decide. I get the benefits of medication for my child, food, housing or I wait to apply for my residence,” explained Anaya, who is also a lawyer.

The Valley Interfaith leader said he does not yet know what method the federal government will use to enact the rule change. However, he said Valley Interfaith is planning to ask supporters to oppose the rule. “We are asking the community to write down and say ‘no’,” he added.

Other immigration attorneys in the Valley said they have received calls from concerned immigrants about the proposed rule change.

“Many people have spoken to me about this situation,” Gerardo Arriaga, an mmigration lawyer, said.

“I see it as a violation of the law. The benefit is for the American children, not for the foreign parents on whom the Trump administration is basing its punishment. It has no legal basis from my point of view. Every child who is American, depending on the income of the parents, can have access to a government benefit,” said the lawyer.

“The fact that the parents are undocumented, it does not mean that the child is not American. As long as the child is American, he has that right.”

Arriaga said there is a possibility of suing the federal government.

“Section 212 of the immigration law establishes who cannot come to the United States. There ere are certain guidelines, but it does not refer of those who have American children and received a benefits,” he explained.

In his opinion the new proposal rule  “is an aberrant thing.”

Other Valley groups opposed to the rule change include La Unión del Pueblo Entero and Proyecto Juan Diego.

Juanita Valdez-Cox

Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of LUPE, said: “Families are the heart of our immigration system. For much of our U.S. history, employment-based immigration has been a much lower priority than family unity. The proposed ‘public charge’ rules would effectively turn that tradition upside down. Trump has repeatedly expressed his desire to severely limit the number of immigrants sponsored by family members, something that Congress and the American people have rejected. His new system would make it more difficult for low-income families to petition for an elderly parent by requiring the immigrant to post a $10,000 public benefits bond. We recognize that our economy will require more immigrant workers in the future to maintain the momentum toward continued prosperity. But our family-based immigration system should not be perverted merely to line the pockets of employers with the funds to sponsor foreign workers.”

Phylis Peters, D.C., executive director of Proyecto Juan Diego, said: “I oppose this rule because it threatens the well-being and health of many people. Let those who have been here, paid taxes, want to work and want to be citizens have a chance to be good Americans. They may be better Americans than we could ever be. Let’s give people a chance to do good with their lives and in turn, help America keep its values and its hard-working ethic.”

CPPP analysis

According to the Center for Public Policy Priorities, over 1.6 million U.S. citizen children may go without needed health care, food, and housing out of fear that meeting those needs will prevent a family member from receiving a visa to enter the U.S. lawfully or earning a Green Card. 

“Texans should be aware that today, just over one in four Texas children—about 1.8 million children— have at least one parent who is not a U.S. citizen. Every year, about 100,000 new Texan Green Card holders are approved, and hundreds of thousands more are waiting their turn. This damaging proposal threatens the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of Texas families,” said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director, Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Ann Beeson

Under current rules, immigrants can lose their ability to gain permanent resident status only if they are entirely dependent on cash assistance benefits (referred to as a “Public Charge”) or long-term care in an institution, CPPP said.

Now the federal government wants to also disqualify immigrants from the legal immigration process if that individual immigrant lawfully uses Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), housing assistance, or sliding-scale “Extra Help” assistance for low-income Medicare beneficiaries’ medication costs.

Of equal concern, said said Ann Beeson, CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the proposed rule would also strongly prejudice immigration pathways toward higher-income people, and raise new higher barriers to gaining a documented immigration status for prospective immigrants who have lower incomes, a chronic or serious illness, or a disability.

In addition, she said, by circulating earlier draft rule versions, and suggesting now that future Department of Justice rules may amplify the impact of this proposed DHS rule, the federal administration has “sown fear among Texas families” that include immigrants, causing untold numbers to drop or refuse Medicaid, Children’s Health insurance Program (CHIP), and SNAP for US citizen children and family members. 

This “confusion and fear” may take years to reverse, resulting in reduced immunization rates, fewer women receiving prenatal care, less adequate nutrition for pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children, and delayed access to medically needed care for children and intervention services for children with developmental delays.

The new proposed rule would also dramatically reduce the ability of low-income working parents to pursue lawful immigration pathways to get a Green Card, undermining the U.S.’ family immigration system without Congressional approval, Beeson said.

“This proposal would close the doors to hard-working new Americans who are critical to our Texas economy and our American tradition of family immigration and social mobility. Rumors about the rule have already frightened too many Texas families into dropping access to health care or food for their children, in hopes that foregoing basic needs is the price they must pay for their family’s ability to live together in the U.S. lawfully,” said Ann Beeson, CEO of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Among the The Texas organizations opposed to the rule change are: 

Caritas of Austin, Center for Public Policy Priorities, Centro San Vicente Health Center (El Paso), Children at Risk, Children’s Defense Fund, Texas CitySquare, Community Health Choice, Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Disability Rights Texas, Dominican Sisters of Houston, Easterseals Central Texas, EPISO and Border Interfaith, Faith in Texas, Feeding Texas, Foundation Communities, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, Indivisible Houston, League of Women Voters of Texas, Office of Mayor Steve Adler, Austin, Texas, One Voice of Central Texas, Pantsuit Republic, Project Vida Health Center (El Paso), Proyecto Juan Diego, Texans Care for Children, Texas AFL-CIO, Texas Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,  Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, Texas Council on Family Violence, Texas Impact, Texas Pediatric Society, Texas State Teachers Association, The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), Houston, VELA, and Young Invincibles.

“As pediatricians who care deeply about the health and well-being of all children in Texas we are extremely concerned about the effects of the recently released proposed public charge rule. Sowing fear among Texas families – one quarter of our children live in families with an immigrant parent – could cause countless numbers to drop or refuse participation in Medicaid, CHIP and SNAP. This fear will have direct impacts on our children’s health including, but not limited to, reduced immunization rates, fewer moms receiving prenatal care, and less adequate nutrition for families who rely on SNAP. This is not the future we want for our children,” said Dr. Ben Raimer, president, Texas Pediatric Society, The Texas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Harming children in order to promote an anti-immigrant, anti-working class agenda is reprehensible. The trauma this proposed rule is already causing to countless Texas children and families will have repercussions throughout our communities and will actively create a poorer, sicker, and less safe America,” said Patrick Bresette, executive director of Children’s Defense Fund—Texas.

Editor’s Note: Rio Grande Guardian reporters Steve Taylor and Dayna Reyes contributed to the above story.