The Trump administration appears likely to propose a change to longstanding immigration rules that could lead immigrants lawfully in the U.S. and their U.S. citizen children to forgo critical benefits such as health coverage and food assistance. Proposed revisions to the federal government’s so-called public charge policy, recently reported in the press, are expected to be formally released for public comment in coming weeks. If adopted, some people will face the incredibly difficult choice between jeopardizing immigration status or forgoing benefits they or their family qualify for, and need. As such, the proposal poses serious harm to Georgia immigrants lawfully in the U.S. who are trying to obtain a green card, their U.S. citizen children, and their close family members seeking to enter the country through proper channels.
U.S. immigration officials use “public charge” for many decades to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either receipt of public cash assistance or institutionalization for long-term care at the government’s expense. The likelihood of becoming a public charge may be a relevant factor in securing a green card or receiving permission for lawful entry into the country. The proposed rule would consider a broad array of public non-cash benefits such as Medicaid or food assistance as well as tax credits into the public charge determination not used as factors before.
The rule change is squarely focused on people trying to enter the country, immigrants lawfully in the country and their children, since undocumented immigrants are already ineligible to receive most public benefits. A public charge consideration only occurs when a person is requesting admission to the United States through proper channels and for people in the U.S. trying to gain lawful permanent resident status (i.e. gain a green card).
Details on Proposed Changes
The proposed rule would buck decades-long policy guiding public charge determinations by expanding the benefits that can be considered in public charge determinations as well as expanding receipt of benefits by an immigrant’s dependent family members, even if those benefits are used by children who are U.S. citizens fully eligible for the aid under federal law.
An expansion to include such a wide array of benefits and tax credits could place people at risk of denial of a green card if anyone in their family receive benefits such as health and nutrition assistance, including children who are U.S. citizens. Further, including tax credits would harm immigrants who are lawfully present and working at low-wage jobs. The rule would make it more difficult for families to ensure their children get what they need to be healthy, do well in school, get ahead and fully participate in communities.
The changes also would mean some people trying to come into the United States to join family could be kept out if anyone in their family received such benefits, or if immigration officials consider them likely to receive them in the future.
Rule Change Could Cause Dire Harm to Georgians
If adopted, there would be new rules for who can stay in or come to the United States, and it portends a chilling effect not just for people seeking to enter the country or to gain lawful permanent residence, but their family members who are U.S. citizen and the community at large. This change would have two main effects.
- Immigration authorities could use it to prevent some people here lawfully from becoming permanent residents if they, or any of their close family members, receive any benefits or tax credits considered as part of the expansion of the public charge consideration.
- It might prevent people who want to reunite with family from entering the United States at all, should authorities rule that they or any member of their family received or will likely receive any of these benefits in the future.
For example, the parents of a child who is a U.S. citizen might forgo enrolling their child in PeachCare, Georgia’s health insurance program for low-income children, for fear the lawful use of that benefit might count against them as part of a public charge determination, and jeopardize their ability to gain permanent legal residence. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates nearly 260,000 children in Georgia who are enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP have at least one immigrant parent. While the rule would not affect all of them, it would hurt many of them.
Parents might also choose to forgo tax credits such as the earned income tax credit or child tax credit, which are proven tools to improve children’s well-being. Research indicates children in families that receive the tax credit do better in school, graduate high school and attend college at higher rates compared to children in families that do not. Women and children in families that receive the credit are also healthier across a variety of measures, studies show.
Children in immigrant families who lose access to nutrition assistance through SNAP benefits would suffer especially serious harm. Evidence suggests that children who get SNAP benefits are less likely to be in fair or poor health than low-income children without access to the benefits, and mothers with access to the benefits are less likely to have low-weight babies. Food assistance is also linked to improvements in reading and math skills among elementary school children and increased chances they will graduate high school.
Georgia is at its best when it provides everyone living in its communities a good chance at a healthy, successful life. But the forthcoming proposed federal rule runs counter to those values, risking the futures of too many young Georgians, harming too many parents and undermining Georgia communities as a whole.
 “Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States,” Migration Policy Institute. 2/8/2018.
 “Nearly 20 Million Children Live in Immigrant Families that Could Be Affected by Evolving Immigration Policies,” Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. 4/18/2018.
 “Safety net investments in children,” Brookings Institution. 3/8/2018.
 “Federal food assistance works for Georgia children,” GBPI. 10/12/2016.