Things That Matter

Trump Tried To Stop Migrants From Receiving Important Public Health Benefits, These Three Judges Just Blocked Him

Federal judges in three states — New York, California and Washington — have issued temporary injunctions against the Trump administration’s “public charge” rule, preventing it from taking effect on Oct. 15.

The controversial rule would make it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards if it looks as though they might need public assistance. Titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” the rule sparked several legal challenges.

Federal courts moved to protect immigrants from a Trump rule that would have affected millions of people.

The rule was scheduled to take effect on October 15, but federal judges in New York, California, and Washington state temporarily blocked it on Friday.

On Tuesday, judges in Maryland and Illinois joined in halting the policy. Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York found that the government failed to justify the need for a stricter definition of public charge and called the rule “repugnant to the American Dream.” Nine lawsuits have been filed so far challenging the rule, arguing that it will result in poorer health outcomes and increased food and housing insecurity for potentially millions of people. 

“This rule is a deliberate attempt to exclude poor people from the citizenship pool,” said Cheasty Anderson, senior policy associate with the Texas Children’s Defense Fund. “They sanctimoniously call this merit-based immigration, but they’re imagining merit as only a dollar sign.” 

The rule imposed by Trump would severely limit migrants’ rights to claim food or medical assistance.

In the fall of 2018, the Trump administration proposed changes to a longstanding immigration policy known as the public charge rule, making it harder for low-income immigrants to become permanent residents or enter the country. Currently, immigrants applying for green cards and visas can be denied if immigration officers find them likely to receive more than half of their income from cash assistance programs or require long-term care.

The new regulation would dramatically expand the criteria to decide if someone is a “public charge,” allowing immigration officials to consider the use of other public benefits like Medicaid, SNAP, and housing programs. Lacking English proficiency, having a medical condition, and being low-income could also hurt immigrants’ applications.

Department of Homeland Security estimates the final rule would directly impact around 382,000 people annually.

According to DHS, the final rule would only apply to green card and visa applicants; it exempts asylum-seekers, refugees, and some victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. But confusion around the rule has led many to unnecessarily refuse or unenroll from assistance programs that they or their children are eligible to receive. The government warned of this risk as early as 1999, when it issued a guidance acknowledging that similar confusion had stopped eligible immigrants from getting help, leading to “an adverse impact not just on the potential recipients, but on public health and the general welfare.”

But the chilling effect extends far beyond immigrants directly subject to the rule.

According to a Manatt Health analysis, more than 13 million people nationwide are at risk of unenrolling from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as a result of the rule, including 8.8 million U.S. citizens with noncitizen family members.

In states like Texas, where more than one out of four children in Texas have a noncitizen parent, many migrant parents are now taking their children off of health care programs like Medicaid, wrongly assuming that if their family members receive public assistance it will impact their own ability to obtain a green card in the future.

“Adoption of the rule will worsen Texas’ sky-high rate of uninsured, already the highest in the country, and immeasurably harm the health and well-being of Texas and Texans,” wrote Douglas Curran, former president of the Texas Medical Association, in a letter opposing the rule. 

Migrants across the country have been forgoing important food and medical care assistance for fear of being denied green cards or even deportation.

More than 13 million people nationwide are at risk of unenrolling from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program as a result of the rule.

Last month, Elizabeth Hasse, an immigration attorney with the Tahirih Justice Center in Houston, spoke to a client about renewing her work permit. Hasse asked her client to bring in her tax returns, paychecks, and proof that three of her four children, all U.S. citizens, were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. But the client told Hasse she had decided not to renew their benefits this time.

In an interview with the Texas Observer, Hasse said: “I was surprised because she’s a client who really needs those benefits and her children have consistently received them for many years. And out of fear, without even asking me about it, she just decided on her own that she was going to try to make it without.” The reason? The woman was afraid that receiving benefits like SNAP could be held against her in the future, possibly leading to the denial of a green card.

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