A new Department of Homeland Security rule means immigrants legally in the United States may no longer be eligible for green cards if they use food stamps, Medicaid and other public benefits.
Florida Policy Institute analysts say that’s already having a “chilling effect” on immigrants coming into the country, individuals now worried about applying for medical and housing assistance.
“So we're talking about people here who have legal status, but whose receipt of public assistance is going to affect their ability to adjust that status and stay in the country,” said Cindy Huddleston with FPI.
The more than 800-page document expands on what's known as the “public charge” rule, referring to people who are at risk of becoming a burden on U.S. taxpayers and who could have their applications to stay in the country denied.
Previously, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services previously looked at factors like education, income and skills in approving applications. Now, it will consider if someone has received public assistance for more than 12 total months within a three-year period.
Some exemptions to this new rule include: Medicaid benefits for those under the age of 21 and pregnant women; having a Medicare Part D low-income subsidy; and benefits received by those enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces, their spouses and children.
Press Briefing with Acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli.
A recent Florida Policy Institute report says for the first time, the rule will make a income thresholds a central issue in immigration decisions. For example, having an individual annual income of under $15,613 or under $32,188 for a family of four would be weighed negatively and could lead to a denial.
The group found that the rule could impact over a million Floiridians who use public safety net programs and are on a path to citizenship.
“And so really, this is a rule that will have a tremendous discriminatory impact against lower income families,” said Anne Swerlick of FPI. “And of course, many of those immigrants provide the central workforce capacity in Florida, especially in the service industry. So, again, this can have a very adverse ripple effect on Florida's economy."
According to the American Immigration Council, one in five residents in Florida is an immigrant, and makes up more than a fourth of Florida’s labor force. Immigrant-led households in the state paid $17 billion in federal taxes and $6.4 billion in state and local taxes in 2014.
Swerlick says despite the rule’s exemptions, they expect many immigrant families in Florida to forgo health insurance for their children, even if those children are U.S. citizens.
“There's already an uptick in the number of uninsured children in Florida. And this undoubtedly is going to contribute to that,” Swerlick said.
“There's not really been a good cost-benefit analysis that's driving the policy. It ultimately is going to cost all Floridians more if we have thousands of kids, including mostly citizen children, who aren't getting the health care they need,” she said.
She says all Floridians will pay, as uninsured immigrants who would have had Medicaid benefits flock to hospital emergency rooms.
At a White House news conference Monday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the administration is just enforcing and clarifying existing rules.
“Generations of immigrants have strengthened the foundation of our country and are making positive contributions today. And we expect that to continue in the future, through faithful execution of our nation’s longstanding laws," he said.
"President Trump’s public-charge inadmissibility rule better insures that immigrants are able to successfully support themselves as they seek opportunity here in America. Throughout our history, Americans and legal immigrants have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to pursue their dreams and the opportunity of this great nation.”
The new rule will go into effect Oct. 15, and only government aid used after that point will be assessed, Cuccinelli said.