Immigration rule risks citizen kids’ insurance
DALLAS — A proposed rule change affecting immigrants seeking green cards could put medical insurance coverage at risk for millions of U.S. citizen children with noncitizen parents, a D.C.-based think tank says in a new study.
The government has proposed redefining who might be declared a “public charge” — a federal designation for people it believes are overly dependent on federally funded social services. Under the proposed changes, immigrants who are “likely at any time” to become a public charge could be ineligible to get visas and green cards that give them legal permanent residency.
U.S. citizen children of noncitizens are eligible for Medicaid coverage. Nationally, 6.8 million citizen children with noncitizen parents are estimated to be enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Urban Institute said in the study released Tuesday. In Texas, nearly a third of enrollees are U.S. citizen children with at least one noncitizen parent, the D.C. think tank said.
The Urban Institute estimates that about 93 percent of citizen children with noncitizen parents who were eligible for government insurance participated in federal insurance in 2016. The institute, immigration attorneys and immigration advocates say many of these children are at risk because their parents may pull their children out of the programs rather than risk their chances at green cards or U.S. citizenship.
“Fear over immigrationrelated repercussions could lead noncitizen parents to drop Medicaid or CHIP coverage for their children,” the report says.
CHIP isn’t included in the proposed rule changes published October 10 in the Federal Register. But the Department of Homeland Security said it is being considered as part of the final rule.
“Finding that such a large share of Medicaid or CHIPcovered children are in families with at least one noncitizen parent suggests that if the effect of this rule reduces Medicaid or CHIP coverage on these families, the impact could be quite large both nationally and in states like Texas,” said Jennifer Haley, one of the authors of the Urban Institute’s study.
More than 115,000 people have entered official comments on the proposed rule, with many in opposition to the change. After Dec. 10, the proposed rule change moves to a review stage before any changes are finalized.
Josephine Lopez Paul, the lead organizer for Dallas Area Interfaith, said her group continues to push for people to comment.
“We have already heard stories of parents unenrolling their kids from CHIP,” Lopez Paul said.
The Dallas Morning News reported in October that immigrants, including some parents of U.S. citizen children, have stopped enrolling their children in federal health and food assistance programs because they’re afraid future rule changes will affect their chances of getting green cards. One woman even delayed reporting an alleged rape because she feared deportation. In all cases, the noncitizens lacked legal immigration status.
The Center for Immigration Studies, which wants more restrictions on immigration, has emphasized that the proposed change to the public charge rule “does not apply to eligible children here legally.” The group said an update on 1999 definitions was overdue.
But the final rule, still weeks, if not months, away from being published, could affect more immigrant parents of citizen children who make decisions on behalf of those children.
And that may create a path for likely legal challenges to the rule.
The federal government must also respond when there is a substantial volume of negative commentary to a proposed rule, said Tom Saenz, the president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF.
The original public charge “statute had no intent to limit, in rights or practice, the rights of U.S citizens,” Saenz said. “And that may be the reason that ultimately these regulations cannot stand.”
Congress could also reject the regulations, Saenz added, noting there was precedent to do that.
DHS estimates the new public charge rules would apply to about 380,000 immigrants each year.