A new proposal by the Trump administration sends a clear message to immigrants—low-income individuals and families need not apply for permanent residence.
A draft proposal leaked to the Washington Post states that immigrants with visas who are applying for green cards could be passed over if they use Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and other forms of government assistance—even if they are parents using those benefits for their children.
— National Immigration Law Center (@NILC_org) May 10, 2018
According to the draft proposal (emphasis added):
"DHS will require aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status demonstrate that they are not using or receiving, nor likely to use or receive, public benefits."
Tying permanent residence in the U.S. to an immigrant's current or future wealth is "extremely hardhearted," said Wendy Parmet of the Center for Health Policy and Law at Northeastern University.
"The administration, in the draft, talks about self-sufficiency," Parmet told the Post. "But we don't expect that of [babies]" who are born in the United States.
The proposed rule is reminiscent of a late 19th century law barring immigrants who were thought to be a "burden" or "public charge" to the government. In 1999, immigration officials made clear that government benefits can be used by immigrants—but under the Trump rule, families and individuals applying for green cards would have to "establish that they are not likely at any time to become a public charge."
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In order to prove they won't need to use benefits like Medicaid and SNAP benefits, the draft states, immigrants would have the option of posting a $10,000 bond—unfeasible for many immigrant families.
"We're talking about middle-class and working families. This could really put parents in an impossible situation—between seeking health assistance for their children and obtaining a permanent legal status in the U.S.," Madison Hardee of the Center for Law and Social Policy said.
The rule would likely have an impact on public health in addition to individuals and families who avoid applying for benefits—including people with urgent medical needs.
Marnobia Juarez, whose husband is applying for a green card, told the Post of cancer treatment she received in Maryland at no cost thanks to a state-funded program. Under the proposal, a spouse's use of benefits could be taken into account on a green card application.
"I'm alive thanks to this program," Juarez said. "You don't play with life, and they are playing with life."
In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget, Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) wrote in April that "the proposal disrupts settled law by making unprecedented changes to longstanding immigration policies...It would allow the federal government to discriminate" against lower-income families.
"This will undoubtedly lead to people across the U.S. going hungry, not accessing needed medical care, losing economic self-sufficiency, and even becoming homeless," continued Inslee.