Rule changes would hurt le­gal im­mi­grants who need as­sis­tance

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Tri-city Forum - By The Yakima Her­ald-Repub­lic

This is a chill­ing time to be a le­gal im­mi­grant who, to make ends meet, makes use of pub­lic as­sis­tance pro­grams such as Med­i­caid and the Sup­ple­men­tal Nu­tri­tion As­sis­tance Pro­gram (for­merly food stamps) and Sec­tion 8 hous­ing sup­port.

The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed “pub­lic charge” rule changes that would al­low the gov­ern­ment to pe­nal­ize le­gal im­mi­grants who use such tax­payer-funded pro­grams and give of­fi­cials the right to with­hold green cards from ap­pli­cants to ac­cess these en­ti­tle­ments.

The gov­ern­ment, un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plans, also would have power to re­ject peo­ple seek­ing visas whom they de­ter­mine might wind up seek­ing fed­eral fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Even though the rule changes have not yet gone into ef­fect — a pub­lic com­ment pe­riod is open un­til Dec. 10 (at www.reg­u­la­tions.gov) — health-care cen­ters that pro­vide ser­vices to low­in­come res­i­dents through­out the na­tion are re­port­ing that some le­gal im­mi­grants are “self purg­ing” from Med­i­caid and SNAP, among other pro­grams, for fear that it will hurt chances for ei­ther ac­quir­ing a green card or hav­ing a rel­a­tive get a visa.

The ef­fects in the Yakima Val­ley, which has a high num­ber of le­gal im­mi­grants due to the re­gion’s agri­cul­tural-based econ­omy, al­ready are be­ing felt, ac­cord­ing to Anita Monoian, pres­i­dent and CEO of Yakima Neigh­bor­hood Health Ser­vices.

“Peo­ple are afraid,” Monoian told us. “Even peo­ple who wouldn’t be af­fected by the pub­lic charge changes. We have had peo­ple tell us they aren’t go­ing to come see us for (med­i­cal and den­tal) care be­cause then there’d be a record of it the gov­ern­ment could ac­cess. It’s hor­ri­fy­ing.”

Some back­ground: For nearly a cen­tury, the United States has re­jected visa and green-card re­quests from ap­pli­cants that of­fi­cials deemed “pub­lic charges” — de­fined as “pri­mar­ily de­pen­dent on the gov­ern­ment for sub­sis­tence.”

Since 1999, the def­i­ni­tion has been in­ter­preted to mean peo­ple who rely al­most solely on cash sup­port and those who re­quire in­sti­tu­tional care.

But the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion, say­ing it seeks to pro­mote self-suf­fi­ciency, wants to se­verely tighten the guide­lines. Un­der the pro­posal, some­one who re­ceives any gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits ex­ceed­ing $1,821 per year would be deemed a “charge” and in­el­i­gi­ble for a green card. Pub­lic as­sis­tance ad­vo­cates say the mone­tary limit would pretty much in­clude ev­ery­one on Med­i­caid or SNAP.

Cer­tainly, that thresh­old would be sur­passed quickly by Val­ley le­gal im­mi­grants who work in the fields or in fac­to­ries or other min­i­mum-wage jobs but need help with nu­tri­tion and med­i­cal care to sup­ple­ment their in­come.

In a let­ter to the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, Neigh­bor­hood Health board chair­man Don­ald L. Hin­man de­tailed the stark and sweep­ing neg­a­tive ef­fects the new pol­icy would have on the Yakima

Val­ley res­i­dents. Hin­man wrote that his health cen­ter’s pa­tients “use ba­sic needs pro­grams to sup­ple­ment their earn­ings from low-wage agri­cul­tural work,” and that 79 per­cent of pa­tients live at or be­low 150 per­cent of fed­eral poverty guide­lines.

Neigh­bor­hood Health’s big fear — al­ready hap­pen­ing in some cases — is that le­gal im­mi­grants would wait to seek med­i­cal help un­til it be­comes an emer­gency, which not only would lead to worse health out­comes but fur­ther stress emer­gency rooms and urgent-care fa­cil­i­ties.

Also, the in­clu­sion of SNAP and hous­ing pro­grams in the pro­posed pub­lic-charge rules could lead to le­gal im­mi­grants en­dan­ger­ing their health by not eat­ing prop­erly and not hav­ing ad­e­quate shel­ter.

Tar­get­ing CHIP (Chil­dren’s Health In­sur­ance Pro­gram) may be the most per­ni­cious part of the changes. That would dis­cour­age par­ents from seek­ing care for their chil­dren, per­haps spawn­ing a health cri­sis. Cit­i­zen chil­dren of le­gal-im­mi­grant par­ents would be harmed if, for in­stance, her im­mi­grant par­ents avoid hous­ing sup­port so as not to be branded a “pub­lic charge.”

Peo­ple’s fear that us­ing es­sen­tial so­cial ser­vices will lead to hav­ing their names shared with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials might have con­se­quences for ev­ery­one in the Val­ley in the form of the spread of com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases and the domino-ef­fect of costs from in­creased ER vis­its.

We all know that le­gal im­mi­grants are a vi­tal part of the Val­ley econ­omy. To deny green cards to de­serv­ing ap­pli­cants — or to keep out their rel­a­tives seek­ing visas — be­cause they have used Med­i­caid in the past both lacks hu­man­ity and eco­nomic sense.

A re­port by the gov­ern­ment’s own So­cial Se­cu­rity Ad­min­is­tra­tion showed that “im­mi­grants of­ten start their U.S. lives at sub­stan­tially lower earn­ings, but ex­pe­ri­ence faster earn­ings growth than na­tives with com­pa­ra­ble years of ed­u­ca­tion and ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In short, these “pub­lic charges” of­ten be­come pro­duc­tive mem­bers of so­ci­ety and the tax base. And re­search by the Whar­ton School of Busi­ness shows that “im­mi­gra­tion leads to more in­no­va­tion, a bet­ter ed­u­cated work­force, greater oc­cu­pa­tional spe­cial­iza­tion, bet­ter match­ing of skills with jobs, and higher over­all eco­nomic pro­duc­tiv­ity.”

Aside from the pos­i­tive eco­nomic gain im­mi­grant work­ers pro­vide, deny­ing them as­sis­tance to which they are le­gally en­ti­tled won’t put them on the path to self-suf­fi­ciency; in­stead, it would en­dan­ger their health and bur­den their lives.

Tri-City Her­ald file photo

The Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed changes that would al­low the gov­ern­ment to pe­nal­ize le­gal im­mi­grants who use tax­payer-funded pro­grams, and give of­fi­cials the right to with­hold green cards from ap­pli­cants to ac­cess these en­ti­tle­ments. Pub­lic health of­fi­cials worry this will cause le­gal im­mi­grants to de­lay seek­ing med­i­cal help.

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