The Trump administration is reportedly considering a new policy that would make it more difficult for immigrants to become citizens or gain legal status if they benefit from government welfare.
Now, immigrants are opting out of government assistance programs over fears that accepting aid could bar them from earning citizenship or a green card in the future.
What are the details?
According to Politico, health care providers nationwide have reported receiving calls from panicked immigrants, both legal and illegal, demanding they be dropped from government assistance programs like WIC, a federally funded program that assists low-income women with providing health care and food for their young children.
Agencies in at least 18 states told Politico they have seen WIC enrollment drop up to 20 percent, a decrease they attribute to the Trump administration’s impending rule change.
Indeed, since Trump assumed office, the number of woman and children enrolled and WIC has seen a significant drop. In January 2017, 7.4 million women and children were enrolled in the program. As of May 2018, 6.8 million were enrolled.
And while it’s not certain the Trump administration’s rule change is to blame — it was first reported in early August — health care providers told Politico they saw a significant spike in enrollees asking to be scrubbed from the program around the same time news broke about the Trump administration’s plan.
While there are ethical concerns over the Trump administration’s plan, U.S. immigration law, under a concept known as “public charge,” permits the government to deny immigrants entry to the U.S. or a green card if the individuals seeking entry or lawful permanent status are reasonably believed to become primarily dependent on government resources to survive.
Why is the administration’s policy so controversial?
According to Politico, the government’s litmus test for public charge historically has centered on whether an individual would need “cash benefits such as welfare or long-term institutional care.”
The fear with the administration’s potential rule change is that it will target immigrants who receive non-cash assistance in federal governments that have remained “largely immigration-blind,” such as: WIC, Medicaid, food stamps, and Head Start.
But instilling fear in immigrant mothers with infant children by targeting immigrants on programs like WIC will have devastating societal effects, critics warned. That’s because WIC, specifically, was designed to aid the health of already marginalized mothers with young children.
If vulnerable parents are unable to provide their children with the care they need, the American public will pay big, Zach Hennessy, an executive at Public Health Solutions, a health nonprofit in New York, told Politico.
“One way or another society is going to pay for this. It’s very expensive for a baby in the NICU. It’s very expensive when a child’s developmental needs aren't met, or there’s a severe maternal morbidity event,” he explained.