immigration, NC Budget and Tax Center

Trump’s public charge is a new threat to immigrant families

The Trump administration is once again attempting to restructure a longstanding policy in U.S. immigration law. Last week, the administration published a proposed change to the public charge rule in the Federal Register, setting off a period of public comment.

Under the proposed change, an individual deemed a public charge may be disqualified from adjusting their status to a green card or obtaining certain visas. The changes will place greater emphasis on income and penalize people for accessing programs that they are eligible for to help them make ends meet.

Following a track record of putting money over people, this Administration seeks to punish low-income working people and families. Under the proposed rule, a public charge assessment will consider federal public benefits such as SNAP (also known as “food stamps”), non-emergency Medicaid, Medicare Part D, and housing assistance. Since the assessment measures the totality of circumstances, other factors considered are age, ability to work, health history, education, and financial status.

The proposed rule will not impact immigrants residing in the country due to humanitarian reasons such as refugees, asylum-seekers, domestic violence and human trafficking survivors. It will also not consider benefits received by U.S. citizen children.

Given that undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive federal public benefits, the rule seems set to create confusion about how families could be affected, however, and the chilling effect could reach more than 530,000 in North Carolina and 24 million nationwide.  This chilling effect is the result of confusion over how the proposed rule might affect their immigration status and pathway that could, in the extreme, lead to the decision to disenroll from programs.  As families opt out of federal programs, children become the most vulnerable victims of this proposal. In North Carolina, it is estimated that 250,000 children could experience the chilling effect.

Further, the proposed rule will penalize immigrants who have never used a benefit program at all, simply for having low incomes or lack of a work history outside the home. This will hurt stay-at-home caregivers, the disabled, or even just working people who make low wages. The rule will make it more difficult for those people to obtain green cards or visas, thus further harming their ability to make fuller contributions to our economy. The economic benefits of the naturalization process boost individual productivity and wages by at least 8 percent, which then triggers local and state economic activity and spending.

If immigrants and their U.S. citizen family members lack the necessary resources to thrive and remain productive in their communities, then the entire community suffers. This proposal will translate to a rise in hunger, homelessness, and financial insecurity. The economic impact of the rule will cost North Carolina at least $245 million.

For the time being, the proposed rule has not become law and the public charge rules remain the same. On Oct. 10, the Trump administration published the proposed rule with the Federal Register and a 60-day public comment period will follow. Then, the Department of Homeland Security will review these comments and address substantive issues before submitting a decision. You can find more about the public comment period here.

Immigrants and their families should not have to worry about choosing food or shelter over the opportunity to adjust their legal status. Our future depends on the success of immigrants. Please join us in submitting a public comment against this proposal before Dec. 10.

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