A typical misconception perpetuated by anti-immigrant groups is that newcomers to the U.S. drain public benefits from the government and drag down the economy. The Trump administration is validating this untruth with a new policy that targets legal immigrants who receive a variety of commonly-used public benefits. This harsh policy will force immigrants and their families to forego needed services that they are legally entitled to. The message of this policy is clear: immigrants are not welcome and they are not valued members of U.S. society.
Under federal immigration law, a noncitizen’s visa or green card can be denied if it is found that he or she is or is likely to become a “public charge.” The U.S. government has defined a public charge in the past as someone who is “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance, or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.” Currently, noncitizens who received cash public benefits can be considered a public charge and be denied legal status in the United States.
Under the administration’s new proposed regulations, which are still in draft form and likely to be officially published soon, an immigrant’s use of many non-cash educational, tax, health, food, housing, and transportation benefits will be “heavily weighted” against the individual in making a public charge determination. Examples of some of the programs considered under the new regulation include subsidized health care under the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), the Earned Income Tax Credit, housing assistance, and Women, Infants, and Children assistance.
Many hard-working, tax-paying immigrant families use these services and benefits and are legally entitled to do so. The use of these programs does not indicate that someone is primarily dependent on the government and should therefore not be used to label them a public charge. Immigrants will still be required to pay taxes on their income but will nonetheless be unable to receive the benefits that their tax money supports.
Despite widespread misinformation to the contrary, low-income immigrants use public benefits at a rate below the low-income native-born population and are more likely to participate in the labor force. Furthermore, immigrant income starts lower but increases over time residing in the United States. Studies also show that immigration leads to higher economic productivity and a net positive impact on government budgets.
This new policy combines this administration’s disdain for low-income people and immigrants. Many immigrant families will be forced to make the difficult choice to decline needed services and benefits or face removal from the United States.
For example, immigrants may be forced to go without preventative medical services that will lead to more expensive medical emergencies down the road. Children may be forced to go without developmental services that could negatively impact them for the rest of their lives. The proposed public benefits policy is not only unnecessarily cruel and dangerous, but any short-term savings will be far outweighed by the long-term costs to society.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.