Homeland Security proposal would penalize those receiving public benefits
Marin County, CA – Local community leaders are mobilizing in response to a new proposal from the Trump Administration that would penalize certain immigrants seeking to change their legal status if they receive public benefits or are deemed likely to become a “public charge” in the future.
Many people in the immigrant community have reacted by abandoning their legally-obtained public benefits including health care, housing and nutrition assistance, which will leave children, seniors and vulnerable families at risk.
Public charge is a means test used to assess a person applying for a visa to enter the Unites States or for permanent legal residency (a “green card”). The proposed regulations from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would expand the list of public benefits in the “public charge test” to include Medicaid (except some emergency medical conditions), Medicare Part D subsidies, Section 8 housing and CalFresh (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly food stamps).
“Once again the administration presents a sweeping proposal written with the express purpose to confuse, belittle and reject,” said Dr. Thomas Peters, President & CEO of Marin Community Foundation. “While focusing on the anachronistic concept of public charge, it willfully ignores the other half of the immigration equation, the innovation, determination and contributions of immigrants. The proposal should be rejected out of hand.”
Under current law, the public charge test for immigration only includes cash assistance and long-term medical care provided by the government. Under the new proposal, the expanded list of benefits above a specified threshold (dollar amount or duration) would be a “heavily weighed negative factor” in reviewing an application.
“The Board (of Supervisors) is concerned about the effects of this proposal and remains committed to supporting residents,” said Damon Connolly, President of the Marin County Board of Supervisors. “We are hearing that these changes will have a chilling effect and deter people from receiving the services they need for their health and wellness. Ultimately, these changes are likely to harm entire communities.”
Although the DHS proposal won’t take effect until after the public comment period closes, service providers report that clients are already dis-enrolling from programs and declining to register for new programs out of precaution and fear.
“Many of our clients are confused and frightened,” said Kari Beuerman, Director of Social Services for the County of Marin. “Over the past couple of weeks we have heard numerous stories of clients withdrawing from benefits that their families need and are entitled to receive. The result ultimately will be loss of necessary medical care, food resources, and housing subsidies for older adults, children, and families. It’s really heartbreaking.”
“The most heartless part of the changes to public charge will be the devastating effects on children,” said Amy Reisch, executive director of First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission. “Children will be going hungry, losing shelter and foregoing medical care for something that is not their fault and over which they have no control.
“Many immigrant parents are worried that by accepting any public benefits, even though they are legally entitled to them, they are risking being separated from their children,” Reisch added. “It’s outrageous that we are forcing parents to choose between food and family.”
Reaction and Response
A local Public Charge Working Group has been meeting for several months to coordinate information gathering and public outreach. Members include the County of Marin, the Marin County Office of Education, the Marin Community Foundation, First 5 Marin Children and Families Commission and many other community organizations. The Working Group will be reaching out to community partners to provide detailed information and to explain the public comment process. They will be posting public information about the public charge issue online at www.marinhhs.org/public-charge.
Public Comment Period
The proposed regulatory changes were posted at www.federalregister.gov on October 10, triggering the start of a 60-day public comment period. Responses to the proposed regulations may be submitted at www.regulations.gov. Comments may be submitted by mail to: Samantha Deshommes, Department of Homeland Security, 20 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20529-2140.
All communications must reference “DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012” and must be received (or postmarked) by December 10.
Protecting Immigrant Families – www.protectingimmigrantfamilies.org
National Immigration Law Center – www.nilc.org
Department of Homeland Security – www.dhs.gov + News release on public charge proposal: www.dhs.gov/news/2018/09/22/dhs-announces-new-proposed-immigration-rule-enforce-long-standing-law-promotes-self
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