A drastic change in the public charge rule published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on August 14, 2019 would substantially restrict access to green cards and various types of visas for immigrants who are not already relatively well-off financially. This proposed rule fundamentally changes our nation’s approach to immigration, making family income and potential use of healthcare, nutrition or housing programs a central consideration in whether to offer people an opportunity to make their lives in this country. The proposed rule takes an existing standard and makes it vastly more restrictive. It could drastically impact the health and well-being of children in families in Michigan and throughout the country.
The direct effect of the rule change would fall on people applying for a green card or certain visas, but the “chilling effect” would be vastly greater. In the legal world, “chilling effect” refers to the suppression of rights through the use of fear tactics. Many families, even people who would already have a green card, or who are exempt from the rule, such as refugees and asylees, are expected to be frightened and confused by the rule.
- Researchers from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimate that the chilling effect would extend to 283,000 people in Michigan. Of these, 114,000 are children. These are people in families with at least one non-citizen member, and who are receiving one of the named benefit programs. In both cases, the large majority of the impacted individuals in the proposed public charge rule are U.S. citizens.1
- The rule will not apply to all non-citizens, but to illustrate how extreme it is, researchers modeled what would happen if the proposed rule were to be applied to everyone. It turns out that in Michigan, 23% of non-citizens and 29% of U.S.-born residents would struggle to meet the criteria set forth by the proposed rule to determine whether people can get a green card.
Economic Impact: A Loss to Michigan
Only some of the people experiencing the chilling effects would go so far as to disenroll from programs they are otherwise qualified to receive. Researchers have modeled three scenarios: If 15%, 25%, and 35% of those experiencing the chilling effect would disenroll.
Using the middle-range scenario, Michigan could expect a $153 million reduction in federal funds that support families, and on top of that the negative ripple effects through the economy could be up to $292 million as hospitals and doctors’ offices see reduced revenues and as people buy less in supermarkets and other stores.
Further, when businesses have less revenue, they lay off workers. Under a middle-range estimate, Michigan stands to lose almost 2,000 jobs as a result of reduced federal funding coming to the state.
The Stakes Are Unbearably High
The proposed public charge rule pushes parents to make heart-wrenching decisions for their families. As a parent, if you apply for food assistance through SNAP or Medicaid, you may fear losing the chance to stay in this country with your kids. Yet, not applying may mean seeing your family go hungry or not being able to see a doctor when you are sick.
If the public charge change is put into effect, advocates and service providers will need to work strenuously to clarify which individuals may be directly impacted and which may be relatively safe. But confusion and fear will undoubtedly spread well beyond the directly targeted population.
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