Even compared with President Trump’s other radical anti-immigration proposals, his plan to expand dramatically the so-called public charge rule shocks the conscience. The administration’s proposal is so chilling and cruel that, even before becoming law, it’s already pushing people to make decisions that jeopardize their health and their children’s.
The rule is meant to prevent people who might become a “public charge” from entering or establishing legal residency in the United States. Historically, the test was narrow, designed to identify those who would rely on the government as their main source of support. The test considered only cash-based aid, which only 3 percent of noncitizens use.
Trump wants to expand factors consideredto include food stamps and housing assistance programs like Section 8, and Medicaid, among others. Additionally, it establishes new factors that would count against noncitizens: earning an income of less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, lacking English proficiency, having a poor credit score, or being older than 61 or younger than 18. These new rules would apply to foreign-born individuals seeking a green card and to some abroad requesting visas.
Letters from Massachusetts officials filed during the 60-day public comment period that ended Monday paint just how detrimental the proposed rule from the Department of Homeland Security would be. More than 500,000 legal immigrants live in the state and could be affected by the new rule, including close to 20,000 in Boston. Mayor Marty Walsh warned, in his comment letter, of a projected $500 million loss to Boston’s economy annually in labor and economic activity as a result of the policy.
Meanwhile, Governor Charlie Baker had six state agencies submit strongly worded letters — among the roughly 190,000 public comments. The Baker administration described the costly burden the new public charge rule would impose on our health care system and some of the unintended consequences the policy would have:
• Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, wrote that enrollment in Women, Infants, and Children, a federal nutrition program, is already down 2,000 people compared with 2017. (WIC was ultimately not included in the public benefits considered by DHS’s rule as issued in October, but the fear that it would be led immigrants to drop out.)
• As immigrants drop their MassHealth coverage, a significant increase in uncompensated care is expected across the state. Roughly 264,000 MassHealth members have a noncitizen immigration status, according to Daniel Tsai, assistant secretary for MassHealth.
• Then there’s the impact on the rest of us: The immigrant workforce is critical to the local economy at a time when the region is facing a labor shortage. One in five health workers in Massachusetts is an immigrant, according to Tsai. In the Boston area, immigrants account for 29 percent of hospital staff and 53 percent of home health aides.
• Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders wrote that even Homeland Security has acknowledged in its own analysis that the policy could produce negative effects, including worse health outcomes, an increased rate of poverty, and reduced productivity.
In the past,the government has encouraged low-income people to enroll in public assistance programs, such as food stamps and Medicaid. So it would be especially unfair to make those choices count against immigrants now.
With so much harm, what could possibly be the intent of this policy change? Homeland Security said in a statement that the policy would “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
But the rule would do exactly the opposite. It would cripple low-income immigrant families who are doing everything by the book, and trigger aftershocks that would hurt all Americans. If Trump were serious about “immigrant self-sufficiency,” he would work with Congress on a comprehensive plan to fix our broken immigration system.