U.S. Law Center

Immigrants increasingly fearful of using public benefits

A forthcoming change to the "public charge" rule may affect as many as 2 million people living in California, potentially impacting their ability to secure green cards if they are recipients of public assistance. Because of the proposed change, which could potentially take effect within a matter of weeks, many immigrants and immigrant families are becoming increasingly fearful of utilizing public assistance programs they have come to rely on.

As of right now, The Mercury News reports that anyone looking to secure a green card must first demonstrate that they are not going to create a financial burden for the United States. To do so, they must show that they are not going to become "public charges," or people who utilize U.S. cash welfare programs or publicaly funded institutional care.

Proposed changes

If the proposed "public charge" rule change moves forward, those who currently use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, Medicaid or housing vouchers will also find it increasingly difficult to get green cards. Furthermore, the presidential administration is also asking immigration officials to consider an applicant's health, income and education levels, and their ability to speak English before making decisions regarding immigration.

Spreading fears

Because many people who utilize social service programs are becoming increasingly fearful that their reliance on these programs could somehow jeopardize their immigration status, or that of people living in their homes, many people are abandoning these programs, despite genuinely needing them. Doing so, however, can have potentially devastating effects. Some parents whose children receive free or reduced lunch or breakfast at school are removing their children from these programs, despite the fact that some children using them may not be able to eat, otherwise. Similarly, some domestic violence victims using SNAP benefits to help them get by without their former partners are also too scared to continue to receive assistance.

Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security believes that about 324,000 people who reside in homes with noncitizens will stop using social assistance programs because of fears about the proposed rule change.

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