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New immigration rules shouldn't discourage green card applicants from seeking help, advocates say

The Department of Homeland Security is one of several federal agencies that have been part of a hack that hinged on a vulnerability in SolarWinds' Orion network monitoring products.
The Department of Homeland Security is one of several federal agencies that have been part of a hack that hinged on a vulnerability in SolarWinds' Orion network monitoring products.

The Biden administration's actions roll back a Trump-era policy that some said deterred immigrants from applying for benefits like SNAP and WIC.

Under the Trump administration, applying for Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could affect an immigrant’s eligibility for a green card.

But the Biden Administration’s decision last week to finalize a rule that undoes Trump’s policy is welcome news for advocates, who say such restrictions were harmful to immigrants going through the immigration process.

Adriana Cadena, director of Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition, called the revised so-called public charge rule a win for immigrant communities.

"Programs like SNAP, WIC, the Child Tax Credit, Section 8 Housing and other non-cash federal programs and also any similar programs at a local or state level will never affect a person's immigration status,” Cadena said. “The important thing here is that immigrant communities who need to use these services can do so without fear of affecting their immigration status."

The newly finalized rule largely resembles the policy in place before the Trump administration. The concept has been around since the late 1880s and is used to determine if a noncitizen could become a “public charge” or likely dependent on government assistance. If so, then the person could be denied a green card, or lawful permanent residence.

Despite the Biden’s administration decision to undo Trump’s policy, some organizations are still concerned. The Migration Policy Institute said recent interviews conducted by its researchers revealed that some individuals are still confused or afraid of accessing benefits and social services for fear of hurting their immigration status.

The Department of Homeland Security has said it noticed a decline in enrollment in certain programs by U.S. citizen children after Trump’s policy took effect even though they weren’t subject to that policy.

“What’s really important is that DHS is not going to look at only the use of those services — those particular two programs (long-term institutional care or cash assistance) — but they’re going to ensure that they look at the totality of the person and ensure that they look at the person’s age, education, health, income and if they have enough to be able to support.”

Although someone could use these services and possibly be considered a public charge, Cadena said the federal government won’t automatically consider them a public charge.

Got a tip? Email Stella M. Chávez at schavez@kera.org. You can follow Stella on Twitter @stellamchavez.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.