From the moment Donald Trump announced his run for the presidency he revealed his intent to inflame the basest of instincts to fuel his ascendency to power. In his two years in office, Trump has stuck to his boorish behavior and has consistently pushed policies targeting people of color, women and immigrants.
The Trump administration has been especially heavy-handed regarding people seeking to enter to the U.S. to earn a living or re-unite with family – build a wall along the southern board to harm people in Latin America; stop Muslims from specific countries from immigrating; and funnel more money and weapons to immigration enforcement agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to terrorize immigrant families in the U.S.
Now, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is getting is acting to make life increasingly difficult for immigrants and their families. In particular, DHS is going to propose a new regulation to re-write a longstanding provision of immigration law to reject many people seeking to immigrate to the U.S. and prevent those lawfully present in the U.S. from obtaining a green card.
Specifically, DHS’s proposal calls for allowing the federal government to broaden which benefits it will consider in a “public charge” determination. Public charge is a really old immigration law term that essentially has meant the federal government could deny an immigration’s application to enter the U.S. or get a green card if it were likely they would need direct assistance from the federal government to make a living here.
Through the DHS rule, the Trump administration is now seeking to broaden the “public charge” evaluation to consider enrollment in Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, assistance provided to low-income individuals to participate in Medicare’s drug benefit, and other specified federal public benefits.
Trump’s DHS takes a page from longtime right-wing policy that greatly restricts federal government programs intended to ensure access to basic items to survive – food, shelter, and access to health care services. Like Trump’s campaign to slash enrollment in Medicaid by adding work requirements, DHS is making equally specious arguments about ensuring self-sufficiency in its drive to limit immigrants from seeking health care and other social services.
Kaiser Family Foundation reported that its analysis of Trump’s proposed public charge change would likely sew confusion among all immigrants. Because of the very public hostility coming from this administration, many immigrants will back away from accessing benefits for themselves or their families because of fear or confusion. This will occur even if they might not be subject to a public charge determination.
“Despite efforts to assure families that Medicaid and CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program] could not be used in public charge determinations under previous policy, many eligible immigrants did not enroll themselves or their children because they feared that it could negatively affect their status. The proposed rule would amplify these fears, which would likely lead to broad falloffs in participation in Medicaid and other programs among a broader group of individuals that those directly impacted by the [proposed] policy change,” KFF’s report states.
As the Los Angeles Times editorial board noted in a sharp piece blasting DHS’s proposed rule change, it would “force immigrants in low-paying jobs to reject help to which they are legal entitled – and which could speed them along the path to financial security – or to jeopardize their ability to remain here.”
Seeking substantial declines in enrollment of Medicaid and other public benefits has been a longstanding goal of conservatives and the Trump administration, and this latest proposed rule falls right in line with that objective.
National Health Law Program’s D.C. Managing Attorney Mara Youdelman, in an issue brief exploring DHS’ proposed rule in detail, notes that if the rule becomes reality, it “will likely have a chilling effect such that many immigrants and their family members abstain from securing health care programs or services.”
Importantly, Youdelman explains why the federal government should not consider use of public benefits in making public charge determinations.
“The programs potentially affected by the proposed rule are essential, not only for immigrants and their family members, but for the health and well-being of the broader community,” Youdelman writes.
The Trump administration has proven repeatedly that facts and realities are not of concern. The driving force remains to fuel hatred of immigrants, and dismantle entitlement programs like Medicaid.
For more information on public charge, please visit the Protecting Immigrant Families campaign website.