Documenting through Service Provider Accounts Harm Caused by the Department of Homeland Security’s Public Charge Rule
Accounts from service providers across the United States indicate that from the time it was “leaked” to when it was finalized in the Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) “public charge” rule has generated confusion and concern among immigrant communities.
The rule seeks to prevent low-income immigrants from becoming lawful permanent residents (“green card”–holders) if they have used or are likely to use noncash benefits that include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly known as food stamps), nonemergency Medicaid, and housing assistance in the future. The “public charge” determination is based on a review of all of an applicant’s circumstances, including their age, health, income, education/skills, family situation, a sponsor’s affidavit of support (contract promising to support the individual), and new considerations such as English language ability, credit scores, and ability to secure private unsubsidized health insurance. The new test will make it much more difficult for low- and moderate-income individuals to immigrate through their family members.
Interviews with 24 service providers — including benefits enrollers, health care professionals, and attorneys — in 11 states demonstrate that fear of the public charge rule’s potential consequences has dissuaded people from seeking health, nutrition, and other safety-net programs even before its implementation. Service providers’ accounts yielded the following findings:
People not subject to the new DHS rule’s public charge test are going without services
In many cases, “chilled” populations are not themselves targets of the rule, demonstrating the widespread, spillover harm fear about public charge creates for immigrant communities and members of immigrant families, including those who are already lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens, as well as for survivors of domestic violence, trafficking, or other serious crimes who are applying for U or T status.
The health and well-being of immigrants and their families are at stake
Providers identified troubling implications for their clients’ and patients’ health and well-being that they associated with fear of being deemed a public charge and other restrictions targeting immigrant communities.
People are making choices, sometimes unnecessary or counterproductive ones, based on fear rather than on an accurate understanding of the rule
Individuals’ concerns about public charge intertwine with other fears of restrictive immigration policies, particularly increased immigration enforcement and the potential for deportation and family separation. Accounts by service providers indicate that many noncitizens don’t want to place at risk any future opportunities they might have to obtain permanent lawful status, especially in a political climate where immigration-related restrictions are multiplying and becoming more unpredictable.
Fear of “public charge” is creating burdens for providers who work with immigrant communities
Service providers are on the front lines of addressing misinformation and answering questions related to public charge and benefits eligibility. They dispense advice to clients and patients, often encouraging continued access to services and benefits for which the latter are eligible — sometimes successfully, but sometimes not. This work creates additional time burdens for human services and health care professionals who are often already overextended in their work, as well as emotional burdens for those who struggle when they see their clients unable to meet their basic needs because of these policy impacts.
IN ADDITION TO DOCUMENTING the harm that is occurring as a result of the DHS public charge rule, these findings identify particular areas of concern and common misunderstandings among immigrant communities that advocates can continue to address through community education.
To download the report, click on the image of the report’s cover, above.