By Tracy Nájera, Executive Director
While the national conversation on immigration has centered on U.S./Mexico border wall funding, DACA, detention of migrant children, and the inclusion of a question on citizenship in the U.S. Census survey, a lesser known power play has been quietly advancing through the federal rulemaking process: a proposed changed to the federal public charge rule. “Public charge” is a term used by U.S. immigration officials in reference to a person considered to be primarily dependent on the government for support. Many visa categories and green card applications require the government to determine if the applicant is likely to be a public charge.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule change would drastically overhaul the government’s public charge evaluation making it incredibly difficult for many immigrant children and families to obtain or renew visa or green cards.
The Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio strongly opposes the proposed rule. Here are a few excerpts from our public comment submitted on December 10, 2018:
“In Ohio, an estimated 8% of children are foreign-born or reside with at least one foreign-born parent. As currently drafted, mere use of the existing safety net programs intended to protect low-income families will force children and families in Ohio and throughout the country into impossible choices between utilizing essential supports, like access to public health insurance or nutrition assistance, and placing their immigration benefits in jeopardy.”
“The proposed rule significantly alters the public charge determination”
“The proposed rule dramatically expands the definition of “public benefits,” adding a host of additional programs including most forms of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), and Section 8 housing programs, among others. By expanding the list of potentially disqualifying programs, the proposed rule threatens thousands of immigrant and mixed-status families, making them afraid to seek programs that help them as they gain their footing in a new country, while being productive and ensuring that their children thrive.”
“In addition, the proposed rule places low-income immigrant families in jeopardy merely for being low-income. The proposed rule imposes challenging income restrictions, in which being at or below 125% of the federal poverty level (FPL) is a new negative factor.”
“The proposed rule will disproportionately harm the health of children and pregnant women”
“The proposed rule conflicts with Congressional intent to protect immigrant children and pregnant women. Specifically, the proposed rule violates the intent of the Legal Immigrant Child Health Improvement Act (ICHIA), to allow lawfully present immigrant children and those who are pregnant to be able to enroll in Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), without needing to wait five years. Currently, Ohio, 33 other states, and the District of Columbia have chosen to implement ICHIA. Medicaid enrollment and utilization is an important part of Ohio’s efforts to better serve pregnant women, infants, and children to decrease the state’s abysmal infant death rate. However, the rule’s inclusion of many forms of Medicaid, and possibly CHIP, as one of the public benefits places pregnant people and children at an increased risk of being determined a public charge due to their Medicaid enrollment.”
“The proposed rule will harm child nutrition and education”
“Public food assistance is a critical source of support for millions of children and their families. In 2016, nearly 500,000 Ohio children were food insecure. By including SNAP in the considered benefits, the proposed rule will prevent parents from accessing the nutrition needed for their own health and the health and development of their children.”
“The host of changes proposed by the Department will disproportionately harm children and families by limiting their access to vital services. These services provide powerful tools to help all families and children – immigrant and natural born – thrive. We strongly urge the Department to immediately withdraw its current proposal and dedicate its efforts to advancing and strengthening policies that support immigrant children and families in achieving better overall health, wellbeing, and economic prosperity.”
 KIDS COUNT Data Center. (2016). Children in Immigrant Families. [Table]. https://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/115-children-in-immigrant-families?loc=37&loct=2#detailed/2/37/false/870,573,869,36,868,867,133,38,35,18/any/445,446
 Georgetown Center for Children and Families, Health Coverage for Lawfully Residing Children, May 2018, https://ccf.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/ichia_fact_sheet.pdf.