The Fear Is the Point

The Fear Is the Point

On Monday, days after ICE conducted the largest workplace raid in its history and targeted and arrested hundreds of undocumented workers at poultry factories in Mississippi, the Trump administration announced that a rule that would make it harder for immigrants who use public programs like Medicaid or SNAP to obtain green cards would go into effect in October.

The rule, first proposed by the Department of Homeland Security last fall and championed by Stephen Miller, expands existing federal laws that already require would-be permanent residents to prove they would not become a “public charge,” adding additional programs to the list of benefits that could disqualify people from obtaining a green card. Expressly targeting poor and low-income immigrants, it would give U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers broader discretion to deny people permanent residency based on their perceived economic status.

More details, from the Associated Press:

Guidelines in use since 1999 referred to a public charge as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support for long-term institutionalization.
Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone has two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Ever since it was announced, the rule has had a chilling effect on low-income immigrant communities, with service providers around the country reporting that immigrant clients who were hoping to become permanent residents had already stopped participating in programs like SNAP and WIC, canceling their appointments to enroll or disenrolling altogether from benefits they are entitled to receive. As Lisa David, the president and chief executive of Public Health Solutions in New York City, told the New York Times last year, “The fear is palpable.”

A similar rule instituted by the State Department has led to a dramatic decrease in the number of visas approved by consular officials for people who apply to come to the U.S., especially Mexican visa applicants who petition to join their family in the United States. Last November, the city of Baltimore sued the Trump administration over the new State Department policy change, alleging that immigrants in the city had begun withdrawing from needed social programs out of fear that their family members would not be able to obstain visas. “They’re giving up government-supported health care, they’re giving up free school lunches, they’re giving up food stamps, they’re not applying for housing,” said City Solicitor Andre M. Davis to the Washington Post. Immigration advocacy groups are already promising to sue the administration over the new DHS rule.

While the Trump administration has claimed that the point of the so-called “public charge” rule is “fiscal responsibility,” it’s clear that the intent is to sow fear and uncertainty among immigrant communities. This new rule is Donald Trump’s targeting and devastation of poor immigrant communities made literal and concrete. As many have pointed out, immigrants, especially those who are not yet permanent residents, make up only a small percentage of people who both qualify for and receive public benefits. “The biggest concern right now is the chilling effect,” Evangeline Chan, the director of the Immigration Law Project at New York City’s Safe Horizon domestic violence shelter, told Jezebel in an interview in 2018. “It’s all the people who won’t be impacted by this but are afraid that it will. The impact could be really devastating. You are going to have people who are going to go uninsured, who will not take advantage of food assistance or housing assistance. People won’t take advantage of preventative care.”

Chan added, “It is built to be confusing.”

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