New rule could deny more immigrants green cards

Receipt of food stamps, Medicaid would be grounds to reject applications

AN ESTIMATED 500,000 immigrant households in Massachusetts could see their path to permanent residency cut off by a new immigration policy put forward by the Trump administration.  

US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced on Monday that immigrants receiving an expanded list of public benefits will have that aid considered when the government determines whether anyone can enter or obtain permanent resident status in the US on Monday morning.  

The purpose of the change, the agency says, is to clarify a law referred as “public charge,” which evaluates an immigrant’s ability to be financially independent and not rely on governmental assistance.   

President Trump, in a statement on Monday, said his administration is taking action to help ensure that non-citizens are self-sufficient and not a “strain on public resources.” He claimed that half of all non-citizen headed households include at least one person who uses Medicaid. 

Under the proposed rule change, immigrants could be denied green cards as a result of previous or current receipt of Medicaid benefits or food stamps. Most immigrants are not likely to receive economic assistance benefits like unemployment payments, but are currently eligible for some food, housing, and health insurance assistance. If the immigrant service deems that an applicant might be on public assistance in the future, that would also be grounds to deny legal status.  

Currently, federal law requires green card and other legal status seekers to prove they will not be a “public charge,” or burden, by being reliant on the government for social and financial welfare. But the new regulation, which would be implemented October 1, would broaden the kinds of programs that could disqualify immigrants from getting legal status. 

Military service members, children, and pregnant women would be exempt from the new policy. The final version of the rule will be published in the federal register on Wednesday.  

report issued by the Boston Foundation in June found the proposal could impact up to 510,000 immigrants in Massachusetts, including 160,000 children. More than 260,000 public comments were made by advocates, medical professionals, and social service providers warning of consequences to the communities when the proposal was initially drafted last year. 

Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, says the policy will scare off immigrants. “Here in Massachusetts,” he said, “an estimated 500,000 households will be placed at risk of foregoing life-saving benefits as a result of these draconian regulations.”  

Advocates believe the decision will penalize immigrants for using food assistance, medical benefits and housing programs.  

“It will likely result in thousands of legal immigrants in Massachusetts deciding to forgo needed food, health, or housing assistance in times of need, putting their and their family’s health and well-being at risk,” said Paul Grogan, president and CEO of The Boston Foundation.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Immigrants, as a whole, represent a small share of the US residents receiving public safety net benefits. According to an Associated Press analysis, noncitizen immigrants make up about 6.5 percent of Medicaid recipients, and 8 percent of food assistance recipients.

Trump noted Congress passed two similar bipartisan bills in 1996, which were signed by former President Bill Clinton.