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Public Charge – Update

By November 21, 2019November 24th, 2020No Comments

“Public Charge Rule” Injunction a Victory for Immigrants – for Now

Imagine you are an immigrant living in Marin, where you’ve worked hard to secure a job, pay taxes and contribute to your community. Your children (U.S. citizens) are receiving an education and your family has access to medical care through Medi- Cal. You’ve applied to become a lawful permanent resident, but you’re frightened that your application could be denied and you and your spouse deported based on your Medi-Cal enrollment.

Do you disenroll in this public benefit, despite the financial hardship it would impose, in order to ensure that your family stays together?

What the rule means to many

In Marin County, this is a question that approximately 19,500 people in mixed-status families are asking themselves — all because of changes to the government’s public charge rule. The rule, which has been in effect for
decades, assesses whether or not someone who wants to enter the U.S. or apply for permanent residency is likely to become dependent on public benefits.

In October 2018, a policy update was introduced by the Trump Administration that created new and tougher definitions of “dependency.” It was slated to be implemented on October 15 of this year. Enrollment in Medi-Cal, food-stamp programs and housing subsidies would now be considered: Non-English speaking immigrants, those without normal education, unemployed people, and those with debts also would be affected. Estimates indicate that up to two-thirds of future immigrants could be excluded from the U.S. based on these changes.

The fact is that almost 75% of low-income immigrants in Marin who access these benefits are employed, and it is these very benefits that help them make ends meet in our highly inequitable county.

While many immigrants in Marin County are exempt from the rule, fear is rampant. An alarming number are disenrolling from public benefits, patients are cancelling medical appointments, and children are not being immunized. Rumors abound and stress is high. We call this the “chilling effect.” The public health consequences are clear — harm to children (including U.S. citizens) and reduced access to medical care, food assistance and housing support.

But there is good news! Due to the extraordinary efforts of immigration advocacy organizations, these controversial policy changes are now on hold. Just days before it was to be implemented, five courts (including the federal court in our region) issued preliminary injunctions that blocked the rule throughout the U.S. This is a victory for all of us, especially the thousands of immigrants who come to the U.S. to find a better life and who contribute so much to our society. However, the fight is not over. The injunction is temporary, and as we went to press, it remains likely that the Trump administration will file an appeal.

Last year, organizations across Marin recognized the impact that the proposed changes was having and began collaborating to educate immigrant communities, leaders, and legislators about the consequences. Earlier this month, Marin Community Clinics and Canal Alliance joined forces to provide weekly, on-site legal consultations to Marin Community Clinics patients who are concerned about the implications of the rule for their families.

We recognize the need to meet our patients where they are, to provide the tools and information they need, and to empower them to make informed choices.

Judge George B. Daniels, who issued one of the injunctions, wrote that, “the rule…is repugnant to the American dream of the opportunity for prosperity and success through hard work and upward mobility. Immigrants have always come to this country seeking a better life for themselves…With or without help, most succeed.” We couldn’t agree more.

This guest editorial was published in the Marin IJ on behalf of Mitesh Popat, MD, MPH, CEO and Omar Carrera, Canal Alliance’s CEO.