Fear, visas and Florida

New im­mi­gra­tion rules are ex­pected to have a “chill­ing ef­fect” on those el­i­gi­ble for aid.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page - BY MONIQUE O. MADAN

Green cards and visas will soon be de­nied to low-in­come im­mi­grants who get — or may one day need — public as­sis­tance ben­e­fits like food stamps, hous­ing vouch­ers, Sup­ple­men­tal So­cial Se­cu­rity In­come and Med­i­caid, de­spite their hav­ing en­tered the U.S. legally, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced this week.

If the gov­ern­ment fore­sees a new ap­pli­cant one day need­ing gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance in or­der to get by, the ap­pli­ca­tion will be de­nied, ac­cord­ing to the new rule.

“What the rule does is if you’re a fam­ily that’s low-in­come, it starts you off at a huge dis­ad­van­tage,” said Anne Sw­er­lick of the Florida Pol­icy In­sti­tute. “It dis­crim­i­nates against im­mi­grant fam­i­lies who are of lower in­come and makes it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for peo­ple ap­ply­ing for green cards and var­i­ous types of visas. This fundamenta­lly changes the U.S.’s ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion, mak­ing fam­ily in­come and po­ten­tial use of health care, nu­tri­tion or hous­ing pro­grams a cen­tral con­sid­er­a­tion in whether or not to of­fer peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to make their lives in this coun­try.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Im­mi­gra­tion Coun­cil, there were about 4.1 mil­lion peo­ple who were non-ci­ti­zens liv­ing in Florida in 2017, and 26 per­cent of them— about 1.2 mil­lion — have used some type of health care, food, hous­ing or gov­ern­ment cash-sup­port ben­e­fit.

Mi­grants cur­rently make up a small per­cent­age of those who get public ben­e­fits, mainly be­cause many are in­el­i­gi­ble from the start be­cause of their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus. How­ever, an­a­lysts say the new rule is more likely to have a di­rect im­pact on peo­ple who wouldn’t be tar­geted at all.

“Strictly speak­ing, the num­ber of peo­ple who are di­rectly af­fected by this is much smaller than the uni­verse of peo­ple who think they are af­fected and are go­ing to re­act to this,” said Matt Childers, di­rec­tor of re­search and pol­icy at the Florida Health Jus­tice Project, a bi­par­ti­san re­search non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion. “This is called a ‘chill­ing ef­fect.’ ”

A re­cent study from Pro­tect­ing Im­mi­grant Fam­i­lies, a cam

paign formed by the Cen­ter for Law and So­cial Pol­icy and the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter, noted that “by threat­en­ing im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus when im­mi­grants use pro­grams to meet their fam­ily’s ba­sic needs, the pro­posal would make im­mi­grant fam­i­lies in Florida afraid to ac­cess pro­grams — like health care and food as­sis­tance — that sup­port es­sen­tial needs.”

That study noted that about 2.1 mil­lion peo­ple in Florida would ex­pe­ri­ence the “chill­ing ef­fects” of the new rule, in­clud­ing 609,000 chil­dren. Those fig­ures are based on fam­i­lies with at least one non-cit­i­zen and earned in­come un­der 250 per­cent of the fed­eral poverty line.

“Fam­i­lies’ fear to par­tic­i­pate in Med­i­caid could re­sult in cov­er­age losses through­out Florida, de­creased ac­cess to care, and worse health out­comes for the en­tire fam­ily, in­clud­ing U.S. cit­i­zen chil­dren,” the Pro­tect­ing Im­mi­grant Fam­i­lies re­port said. “De­creased par­tic­i­pa­tion among Florida im­mi­grant fam­i­lies in food as­sis­tance could lead to higher lev­els of poverty and food in­se­cu­rity.”

The gov­ern­ment’s move to re­de­fine and ex­pand its def­i­ni­tion of a “public charge”— some­one who is con­sid­ered to be pri­mar­ily de­pen­dent on the gov­ern­ment and a fi­nan­cial bur­den to the U.S. — is one of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most ag­gres­sive strides yet to limit le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

The new rule, which takes ef­fect Oct. 15, fa­vors wealth­ier im­mi­grants seek­ing per­ma­nent sta­tus and puts the poor at a dis­ad­van­tage, an­a­lysts and schol­ars say. Peo­ple who are sub­ject to the “public charge” de­ter­mi­na­tion process are ap­pli­cants seek­ing a green card or a visa, not citizenshi­p.

Though the process has al­ways weighed fac­tors such as in­come, ed­u­ca­tion, health sta­tus and skills, un­der the new rule U.S. Citizenshi­p and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices will also con­sider whether ap­pli­cants have re­ceived public as­sis­tance for more than a year within the pre­vi­ous three years in or­der to de­ter­mine if the ap­pli­cant can gain le­gal sta­tus.

A U.S. Citizenshi­p and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices news re­lease said the rule will “bet­ter en­sure that aliens seek­ing to en­ter and re­main in the United States — either tem­po­rar­ily or per­ma­nently — are self-suf­fi­cient and rely on their own ca­pa­bil­i­ties and the re­sources of fam­ily mem­bers, spon­sors, and pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions rather than on public re­sources.”

Asylees, refugees, traf­fick­ing vic­tims and vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are all ex­empt from the public-charge rule. Also ex­empt: in­di­vid­u­als granted re­lief un­der the Cuban Ad­just­ment Act, the Nicaraguan and Cen­tral Amer­i­can Re­lief Act and the Haitian Refugee Im­mi­gra­tion Fair­ness Act.

The new rule also has ex­emp­tions for some ben­e­fits that will not be counted un­der the rule: the Medi­care Part D low-in­come pro­gram sub­sidy, as well as ben­e­fits awarded to preg­nant women or chil­dren un­der 21.

In two briefs pub­lished in Novem­ber — while the rule was in draft form — the Florida Health Jus­tice Project an­a­lyzed the im­pacts that the changes would have on Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram, or SNAP, en­roll­ment (food stamps) and health care cov­er­age among U.S.-born chil­dren in “mixed-sta­tus” fam­i­lies in Florida and its ma­jor metropoli­tan ar­eas.

The re­port said that about 80,000 kids would lose food stamp ben­e­fits and more than 107,000 kids would lose health in­sur­ance in Florida be­cause house­holds are ex­pected to not ap­ply for ben­e­fits out of fear. The anal­y­sis used data from the 2016 Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Sur­vey.

Childers noted that the num­ber of cit­i­zen chil­dren who would be ad­versely af­fected un­der the rule is sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the data he shared for var­i­ous rea­sons.

“No. 1, this anal­y­sis does not in­clude an es­ti­mate of the chil­dren who are cur­rently el­i­gi­ble but not en­rolled in the pro­gram. No. 2, the chill­ing ef­fects from the changes in the public-charge rule are likely to be much greater than what we es­ti­mate here be­cause this is a pol­icy change that is di­rectly tar­get­ing im­mi­grants,” he said.

The num­bers are based on the es­ti­mate that 15 per­cent to 35 per­cent of house­holds with at least one non-im­mi­grant mem­ber will dis­en­roll from their ben­e­fits out of fear. The es­ti­mate was mea­sured based on “un­in­tended con­se­quences” of the 1990s wel­fare re­form, Childers said, which was not meant to di­rectly tar­get im­mi­grants, yet led to mass dis­en­roll­ments from Med­i­caid.

“This is how it will work: It will af­fect lots of peo­ple who are ap­ply­ing for green cards and visas but will af­fect even more peo­ple who oth­er­wise wouldn’t be af­fected at all — all be­cause of fear, con­fu­sion and lack of good in­for­ma­tion.”

Childers said var­i­ous im­mi­gra­tion and pol­icy or­ga­ni­za­tions are in the midst of or­ga­niz­ing com­mu­nity in­for­ma­tional work­shops.

JACQUELYN MAR­TIN | As­so­ci­ated Press

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­defin­ing and ex­pand­ing the def­i­ni­tion of “public charge” — some­one con­sid­ered a fi­nan­cial bur­den on the United States.

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