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Trump Proposal Would Limit Green Cards And Visas For Immigrants With Low Incomes Or Government Assistance
On September 21st, the Trump Administration proposed a regulation limiting access to legal permanent residency status (green cards) and other visas for immigrants who use public services that support low-income households. If finalized, the revised rules would hurt many immigrant families and damage the US economy.
The proposal, drafted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is less onerous than a previous draft leaked earlier this year. Among the changes from the earlier version: a "public charge" determination will not consider refundable tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). In addition, it will not consider benefits received by or on behalf of US citizen children or other US household members.
What is a "Public Charge"?
The proposal aims to expand the definition of "public charge," a legal term that describes a person likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. For more than a century, the government has made such a determination when immigrants apply for green cards, adjustment of temporary visa status, or admission to US. But until now, the rules have been aimed at barring legal residency from those who are primarily dependent on public cash assistance or those institutionalized for long-term medical care at government expense. Historically, these rules have affected a small share of applicants.
DHS' proposed rule would substantially broaden the definition of “public benefits” that could lead to disqualification from legal residency and denial of temporary visas. Expanding beyond considering cash benefits like TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SSI (Supplemental Security Income), the proposal includes non-cash benefits such as SNAP (food stamps), non-emergency Medicaid, subsidies for Medicare Part D (prescription drug coverage), and housing and rental assistance.
The proposed approach would also closely consider an individual's income and financial assets, assigning new low-income benchmarks and heavy negative weights on discretionary factors such as "lack of employability" and "lack of means to pay for medical costs." A comprehensive summary from Vox highlights the proposed revisions.
Generally, benefits used before the final rule is adopted would not be considered. A complicated formula would determine whether a person is likely to make future use of public services, and this may damage their chances for residency and temporary visas.
What are the expected impacts?
The rules could deter many immigrant households from applying for public benefits. Their complexity may push many families to disenroll or forgo public benefits they or their children are eligible for, due to fear that it could impact their future visa or green card prospects. It is worth noting that immigrants pay taxes that support these programs. Income taxes and payroll taxes are withheld from their paychecks, nearly all pay sales and excise taxes, and many pay property taxes (either directly or indirectly through rent).
Currently, immigrants are often ineligible to receive public benefits from Medicaid and SNAP and often get fewer benefits even when eligible than native-born families with similar income and family composition. Similarly, immigrants are less likely to claim public or private health insurance benefits than native-born individuals.
In the proposal itself, DHS acknowledges that the revised rules could result in worse health outcomes, increased rates of poverty and housing instability, and reduced educational attainment. Families trying to meet their household's basic needs for nutrition, healthcare, and education will be among those most affected due to forgone social safety net benefits. Children in families with at least one immigrant parent are a growing share of the US population, and 88 percent of those children are born in the US. Therefore, the wellbeing of families with US citizen children would also be reduced.
The US needs immigrant workers. Many work in low-paying service jobs, and public benefits, which they are eligible and entitled to, are necessary to maintain a modest standard of living. Rules that implicitly require immigrant workers and their families to choose between essential public supports and legal residency will not only hurt those households, they will damage the US economy.
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