In October, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would significantly change U.S. immigration policy by modifying the definition of “public charge.” We strongly oppose this change that would prevent children from getting benefits—such as healthcare and housing—that they deserve.
For nearly 100 years, U.S. immigration law has used the term “public charge” to mean a person primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. A “public charge” designation can bar an individual from entering the U.S. or disqualify an applicant from legal permanent residency.
The proposed rule vastly expands the definition of “public charge” to include individuals who receive one of many benefits, including Medicaid, SNAP, housing benefits and health insurance through the ACA’s health exchange. It also widens the law’s application to include dependents, including citizen children.
The proposed rule would cause families to forego food, health or housing benefits out of fear that receiving them would jeopardize their status, and will have a direct and harmful effect on children’s wellbeing. This rule would not only prevent immigrants whose status would be affected by the rule from seeking benefits, studies have shown that it would also deter families whose immigration status would be unaffected by the proposed rule from seeking out these benefits.
This so-called “chilling effect” has been seen before. When a major overhaul of federal welfare law in 1996 rendered immigrants—but not their U.S. citizen children—ineligible for federally funded benefits, more than half of the U.S. citizen children with an immigrant parent dropped out of the food stamps program.
All of this will ultimately affect a child’s education. Educators can readily attest to the effects of inadequate nutrition, a lack of routine medical care, and destabilized living situations on students. These factors contribute to disruptive behavior, inattention in class, absenteeism, and incomplete work.
Healthy Schools Campaign believes that all children deserve the fundamental security provided by adequate food, healthcare and housing. It is only with such supports in place that students can meaningfully engage at school and reach their greatest potential. We submitted comments as part of the public comment period in December, and we continue to stand in opposition to this harmful proposed change as we await the final rule.