IIR's Public Comments featured in The George
Comment on Proposed Public Charge Rule
The Institute for Immigration Research (IIR) is a multidisciplinary research institute at George Mason University. The IIR’s mission is to inform and refocus the immigration conversation among academics, policymakers, and the public by producing and disseminating unbiased and objective, interdisciplinary academic research related to immigrants and immigration to the United States.
On September 22, 2018, the Trump administration and the Department of Homeland Security announced a new proposed rule related to public charge. The proposed regulation re-interprets a provision found in the Immigration and Nationality Act and redefines public charge, putting the health and development of U.S. citizen and immigrant children at risk and keeping American families needlessly separated.
What is the current policy on public charge?
“Public charge” is a term used by U.S. immigration officials to refer to a person who is considered primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. Where this consideration applies, an individual who is found to be “likely . . . to become a public charge” may be denied admission to the U.S. and/or lawful permanent resident status.
What are the proposed changes?
Until recently, consideration of public charge only applied to individuals receiving cash benefits (such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF) or long-term institutionalized care (i.e. long-term hospitalization paid by Medicaid). Programs related to housing, nutrition, and health care are not currently considered negative factors in the determination of public charge. However, under the proposed rule, programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Assistance to Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and Section 8 housing would be considered negative factors. Additionally, the proposed rule would consider English proficiency and a household income of at least 250% of the federal poverty line as “heavily weighted positive factors” towards receiving permanent residency or admission in the U.S.
Current use of public programs by immigrants
These changes pose harmful consequences to U.S. citizen and immigrant families. Immigrant adults and children may rely on these programs during especially difficult times, and denying them access to these programs may have a very harmful impact. Furthermore, even U.S. citizen children of immigrant parents may not be able to access the programs for which they are eligible if their parents fear that using the programs will jeopardize their ability to secure immigration benefits. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 15.9 million American children under 18 have at least one foreign-born parent.
Immigrants already use public benefits at low rates, in part because they are ineligible for many programs. Contrary to popular belief, immigrants are less likely than U.S. citizens to enroll in Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, or other public benefits. According to the Cato Institute (2018), only 15.2% of eligible non-citizens participated in Medicaid compared to 23.3% of eligible citizens. Despite 1 in 4 children living in poverty having at least one foreign-born parent, U.S.-born children of immigrants are likely to use programs such as SNAP at rates similar to those of citizen children with native U.S.-born parents (25.4% vs. 17.7% respectively).
Impact on children and families
If the new proposed public charge rule were to be enacted, U.S. citizen will be negatively affected. It would put parents and children at risk of losing essential services and discourage parents from enrolling their children in these important programs.
Previous studies have shown that changes in immigration policy such as the new proposed rule are linked to a decline in benefit enrollment rates for citizen children of immigrants. The proposed regulation will cause immigrants to disenroll from programs such as Medicaid and will increase the rate of uninsured children in the U.S. In fact, there have been reports that immigrants are already choosing not to use programs for which they are eligible.
Several studies have highlighted the link between insurance status of a parent and outcomes for their children. Parents with Medicaid have access to mental and physical health services and are better equipped to protect their children from the effects of toxic stress. For example, the most recent Medicaid guidelines permit states to screen mothers for depression during child wellness check-ups. Children might not receive this important screening if their parents will not access Medicaid.
According to scholars, losing access to essential programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, and WIC puts children at risk for:
- food insecurity,
- nutritional deficiencies
- learning difficulties
- increased emergency room visits
- and chronic asthma and other chronic diseases.
Additionally, several studies have highlighted the relationship between childhood well-being and adolescent and adult outcomes. For instance, the proposed rule can and will influence long-term outcomes such as high school and college completion, standardized test scores, depression and suicidal ideation in late adolescence and early adulthood.
Separating American families
The proposed public charge rule will also keep American families separated since many families will not be able to meet the new income and public charge requirements. Broadening the definition of public charge also means the government would consider factors including age, health, education and skills. For instance, one of the proposed “heavily weighted negative factors” towards an individual’s permanent residency application is being under the age of 18. Anyone wishing to sponsor a family member must show they have an annual household income of 250% of the federal poverty level. This means that a family of three must have an annual income of at least $51,950. These factors will make it difficult for many U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents to sponsor their close family members and will result in the separation of more American families.
Research shows that separation of children from parents can have severe and irreversible consequences for children such as emotional attachment issues, lowered self-esteem, and overall mental and physical health problems. Furthermore, research shows that families serve as important integrating forces, and the presence of family members who help with childcare can mean that immigrants are more economically productive.
In summary, the proposed rule will not only negatively affect the everyday lives of immigrants, but also the lives of U.S. citizens and their families. These are families who wish to remain permanently in the United States as future workers, tax payers, and homeowners. We should be investing in their futures so that they can become productive members of society, not denying them access to services they need in challenging times.
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November 27, 2018