Updated 1:10 p.m. 8/13/19
President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security finalized a new rule Monday that will allow immigration officials to deny green cards to legal immigrants who receive some public benefits.
The “public charge” rule, as it’s known, will restrict immigrants who receive food stamps, Medicaid, welfare or housing assistance from applying for green cards or certain other kinds of visas, and put certain income restrictions in place.
According to an analysis by the nonprofit Michigan League for Public Policy (MLPP), it could indirectly affect almost 300,000 people in Michigan alone and could hurt the state’s economy.
A wide group of policy analysts and community activists, alike, have criticized the rule, which is the latest effort by the Trump administration to restrict not just the flow of undocumented immigrants into the country, but also the number of legal immigrants who have a path to citizenship.*
Announcing the rule on Monday, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Ken Cuccinelli said, “We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient. … That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”
Madiha Tariq is deputy director for Michigan’s ACCESS Community Health and Research Center, a nonprofit serving the state’s Arab American community. She said Monday that the new rule’s biggest effect will likely be to drive an already vulnerable community further away from resources that are otherwise available to them.*
“It’s created a great hesitation amongst people, especially those with mixed-[immigration] status families, to apply for different services for members of the family who already have citizenship,” Tariq said. “We’ve already had clients that have come to the clinic, and we sent them [to apply for benefits], and they said ‘no,’ because they think it will affect their citizenship.”
The Lansing-based MLPP has focused much of its study on what they call this “chilling effect” in their study of the rule, which was originally proposed last fall and will now officially be enacted sometime in October.
In February, the MLPP’s Victoria Crouse pointed to research from the Washington, D.C.-based liberal think tank the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) that showed “that the chilling effect would extend to 283,000 people in Michigan,” and that “the large majority of the impacted individuals in the proposed public charge rule are U.S. citizens.”
A May report from the CBPP compared the restrictions put in place by the rule to the United States’ general population, finding it “would change the public charge definition to one so broad that more than half of all U.S.-born citizens could be deemed a public charge.” The CBPP’s Danilo Trisi asserts that would “change the character of the country to one that only welcomes those who already have substantial wealth and income.”
Oscar Castaneda, an organizer for the immigrant rights group Action of Greater Lansing, pointed out that he’s heard concerns about the new rule not only from the state’s most vulnerable lower-class immigrant communities, but from those who are already relatively well off.
“When people talk about these issues, immediately their bias is to think about the guy you see when you’re driving on the highway and you see the guy breaking cement and asphalt, but this affects people at a much higher level,” Castaneda said. “This is producing anxiety not only in the working class, but in the middle class.”
The MLPP also pointed out the negative effect the rule could have on Michigan’s economy, writing in February that “Michigan could expect a $153 million reduction in federal funds that support families, and on top of that the negative ripple effects through the economy could be up to $292 million as hospitals and doctors’ offices see reduced revenues and as people buy less in supermarkets and other stores.”
The ripple effect isn’t limited to the economy, either, with National Low Income Housing Coalition President and CEO Diane Yentel pointing out in a statement Monday that as “low-income immigrant families lose access to needed housing assistance, they will face increased risk of eviction and homelessness, with tremendous personal and societal costs from the poorer health, lowered educational attainment and lessened lifetime earnings that will result.”
The new rule is based on an existing standard that’s being strengthened, something the USCIS Chief Cuccinelli pointed out Monday. To activists like Action of Greater Lansing’s Castaneda, its renewed application is at the root of its perceived unfairness.
“I’m sure 95% of the people who come from immigrant families today, they would say they wouldn’t have met these [income] parameters,” Castaneda said. “This is totally against the way this country has always worked.”
This story was updated to better reflect who is affected by the rule’s change and what resources are available to them.