The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released its reinterpretation of the antiquated “public charge” rule — a proposal that would drastically reduce access to green cards and various types of visas for immigrants who do not meet a certain income threshold or who are recipients of public benefits like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or Medicaid.
A new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute reveals that an estimated 24 million people and 9 million children under the age of 18 would be affected by the proposal. The number includes both the otherwise eligible applicants who would be denied a green card or visa as a result of taking public benefits and the immigrants who would be too frightened to even apply in the first place.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, immigrant mothers have been contacting local health and providers in a panic since the proposal was first rolled out, many asking to be dropped from WIC, a federal nutrition program that supports pregnant mothers and their infant children, fearing retaliation from the Trump administration.
The Fiscal Policy Institute has concluded that the proposed rule change by the Trump administration has gone too far, unilaterally shifting immigration policy without congressional oversight and redefining what it means to be an “acceptable” immigrant.
Under the new proposal, any immigrant who has taken any one of a number of non-cash benefits like Medicaid, housing support, SNAP, or Medicare subsidies to reduce the cost of prescription drugs would be considered a “public charge” in the eyes of the federal government. The latest change by the administration would also impose a income threshold. An individual making less than $15,000 or a family of four earning under $31,000 would be weighed negatively and could lead to a green card denial.
If U.S. citizens were subject to the same test, nearly 29 percent would fail, compared to 28 percent of non-citizens, the report shows.
Many U.S. residents, regardless of legal status, utilize these public programs to get through hard times and advance up the socioeconomic ladder. Restricting legal protections for immigrants who use these programs only forces the immigrants who are already living quiet lives in the United States to make more difficult decisions.
As the Fiscal Policy Institute notes in its report:
The stakes are unbearably high. As a parent, if you apply for SNAP or Medicaid, you may fear losing the chance to stay in this country with your kids. Yet, not applying may mean seeing your family go hungry or not being able to see a doctor when you are sick.
As immigrant activists have pointed out, the public charge rule is a step towards whitewashing immigrant communities by limiting immigration to the whitest, wealthiest, and most-educated, which was exactly what the rule was intended to do when it was first implemented centuries ago.
As ThinkProgress previously reported, the notion of a “public charge” was first introduced in 1882, prior to the Chinese Exclusion Act’s implementation. Immediately following its passage, the government took advantage of the rule, using it to prohibit entry by “idiots, lunatics, convicts, and persons likely to become a public charge.”
“We were basically using it as a way to get rid of people and making up excuses,” University of California at Santa Barbara professor Lisa Sun-Hee Park told ThinkProgress in September.
President Trump and anti-immigrant Cabinet members such as senior adviser Stephen Miller have made it clear through their comments and policies that this is the kind of America to which they wish to return.
Miller spearheaded both the new public charge rule and advocated for immigrants from countries devastated by disease or natural disasters to lose their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation. President Trump himself described Haiti and several African nations protected by TPS as “shit hole” countries during a closed-door meeting with lawmakers to discuss TPS in January.
“Why do we need more Haitians?” Trump said at the meeting, according to people familiar with the conversation. “Take them out.”
A federal judge last week temporarily saved roughly 300,000 TPS holders when it blocked the Trump administration from ending the program entirely.