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Low-Income Texas Immigrants Could Soon Have To Choose Between Benefits And A Green Card

Gabriel C. Pérez
The federal government could soon exempt low-income immigrants from receiving visas or legal status if they're too dependent on federal assistance programs.

The Trump administration is closer to banning some low-income, legal immigrants who are relying on public services like food stamps from legally entering the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security released a preliminary version of a new rule-change Monday. It would transform what’s known as a "public charge," which is the metric the federal government currently uses to figure out whether someone will be entirely dependent on the government's help. In some cases, that means longterm hospitalization or indefinite financial assistance. Under the proposal, that definition is much broader.

According to the agency, this new public charge standard would apply to "an individual who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months, in the aggregate, within any 36-month period."

Those benefits include cash assistance, Supplemental Security Income, most forms of Medicaid and some housing programs and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – formerly known as food stamps. DHS said in an announcement that it's expanding the number of programs considered to "ensure that applicants subject to the public charge ... are self-sufficient."

Groups all over the country – including immigration and child welfare advocates – have been speaking out against this potential change for more than a year now.

They say the rule-change could have devastating effects on lower-income immigrant families relying on services like food stamps. They estimate four-person households who make less than $62,000 a year could be most affected.

Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said during a press call that the change amounts to a "monster of a regulation that would reshape our nation’s legal immigration system."

She said the change to the public charge has the potential to effect up to 26 million immigrant families in the U.S. and could shut out "the pathway to a permanent secure future to anyone who isn’t white or wealthy."

"This is an all-hands-on-deck situation moment for the country," Hincapié said. "Health providers, pediatricians, educators, legal services, business and local communities across the nation will all be affected."

Researchers say this change will likely also create a "spillover effect," as it may affect people living in families with mixed immigration statuses. There is already evidence family members are withdrawing from government services they are legally entitled to out fear another family member will not get a green card.

"The rule is changing those who it is intended to effect – those who would be applying for green cards and permanent status in the future – but also a wide arrange of immigrants and U.S. citizens that live together in mixed status families," said Sara McTarnaghan, a research associate with the Urban Institute.

A study released last week from the Urban Institute found the rule change has already created "chilling from public services." McTarnaghan said this trend will likely continue, although it’s difficult to predict how widespread that will be.

The rule-change is part of a larger effort by the Trump administration to curb both legal and illegal immigration.

Experts in Texas say the impact this will have on the state will likely be significant.

"This xenophobic regulation will close the doors to hard-working new Americans who are critical to our Texas economy and our American tradition of family immigration and social mobility, said Anne Dunkelberg, the associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, in a statement Monday. "More than one in four Texas children today has a parent who is not a U.S. citizen, and the time has come to respect these children and be a welcoming state."

Experts expect the final version of the rule-change could be posted as soon as this Wednesday. Once it's posted, it will go into effect 60 days later.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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