On Friday, October 11, 2019, Federal judges in New York, California, and Washington state all issued temporary injunctions on the Trump Administration’s final rule to expand the definition of “public charge.” The rule applies to immigrants legally seeking to enter the United States or adjusting their legal status (green card status). On Tuesday, October 15, judges in Maryland and Illinois also issued temporary injunctions. The rule was scheduled to take effect on October 15 of this year.

The final rule had been released this past August. Under the new rule, the Administration will now consider the use of health care, housing, and nutrition programs as a potential signal a person will become a public charge.

For people entering the country, there has been a test of whether an individual legally entering the country will become a public charge to the U.S. based on the use of certain human services. In evaluating the likelihood that an individual will become primarily dependent on the government, U.S. immigration has looked at cash assistance programs such as TANF or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The government also looks at the affidavit of support, which is signed by the immigrant applicants sponsor in evaluating whether a person in the future will become a charge.

Under the new rule the list of publicly-funded programs that immigration may consider when deciding whether someone is likely to become a public charge will now include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Section 8 housing assistance and federally subsidized housing and the rule expands cash assistance to include not just TANF and SSI but any state or local cash assistance program.

The Department of Homeland Security estimated that 382,000 people would be directly impacted, but according to the Manatt Health analysis Medicaid Payments at Risk for Hospitals Under the Public Charge Proposed Rule,13 million people nationwide are at risk of unenrolling from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). This estimate includes 8.8 million U.S. citizens with a noncitizen family member.

As with so many of the Administration’s immigration restrictions, the impact is having an overall chilling effect on people willing to access needed services from health care to human services to domestic violence services. On Friday, December 7, 2018, CWLA submitted comments in response to the proposed changes. In the letter, CWLA states:

“We see this proposed rule as creating barriers for families who are immigrants and their children. As we pointed out in our 2018 agenda to the Administration, policies that may restrict access to human services that target some of these families, including documented immigrants will only increase stress on the families and the children…“Children in families of immigrants benefit when they have access to programs and services that help meet their basic needs and promote their development. Children are inherently dependent upon their parents for emotional, physical, and material support. Penalizing parents who are immigrants for using publicly funded health, nutrition, and housing programs—for which they are legally eligible—may also result in children losing these services. In addition, parents’ own health and well-being affects their ability to meet children’s needs.”

For a copy of the CWLA comments, go here.