Benefits for immigrants without green cards could end

Immigrants who do not possess a green card and need assistance would no longer be able to receive state benefits like health care and food stamps if a new rule defining public charge is approved.

On Oct. 15, this “final rule” for immigrants and public rule of detention from President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was set to be approved for federal enforcement. However, a couple of days later judges in three states, including Judge Phyllis Hamilton, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, joined New York and Washington in blocking this rule with a temporary stay, meaning that the rule will not be enforced yet.

The rule, “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” was first finalized by the Department of Homeland Security on Aug. 14, and would allow the federal government to deny admission into the U.S. based on individuals’ disability and the use of programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, and in California, CalFresh. It would make it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards if they seem to be in need of public assistance or support, called a possible “public charge,” based on an expanded list of factors to determine whether a person could be considered a “public charge.”

According to Jordan Lindsey, executive director of The Arc in Sacramento, The Arc has spoken out against the rule in support of individuals with disabilities. Hamilton stated that the government minimized the potential public health consequences of the proposed rule. It has also been challenged in several more federal courts by more than a dozen state attorneys general, including California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a formal complaint.

The policy would affect both children and adults based on disabilities and chronic conditions.

“This new policy is devastating to many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. It discourages immigrant families from utilizing critical public services out of fear of harming their immigration status,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, in a public statement.

A chilling effect

As a result of this policy and lack of information about it, a chilling effect has been observed by the state in the number of enrollments in basic social programs, like in food stamps and health care, according to Dawn Joyce at Wynn Health Group.

The problem occurs when people misunderstand the effects of the rule and whether it applies to them, Joyce said.

“It impacts an unnecessary number of people,” she said, when accurate information could prevent confusion and loss of services.

Anyone who has a green card is still protected under the proposed rule — but uncertainty about who connected to that individual is entitled to rights can be confusing for many.

That’s why it is so important that people who are using social programs have access to free, accurate information about it in a variety of public places, Joyce said.

Getting reliable information

There are undocumented immigrants who are seeking asylum from countries like Nicaragua and Honduras, said NorCal Resist member Ruth Ibarra, who visited Chico with colleague Autumn Gonzalez for an information session about awareness of Immigration Customs and Enforcement last month.

These vulnerable immigrants include young families working in agricultural communities, those who have disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals who have fled their country to seek refuge from violence, discrimination and malnutrition, Ibarra said.

These immigrants are particularly vulnerable and in need of social “safety net” programs for food and health assistance, Joyce said. So if one member of a family does not have a green card, a common misconception is that no other member of the family can receive help — which isn’t true at this time.

That’s why it’s crucial that accurate information is made available to the public in a timely manner.

“I think California has done a great job getting out information to people,” Lindsey said.

Until the rule goes into effect, information about the policy and legal services are available for immigrants from California’s Department of Social Services.

*story by The Daily Democrat