Fighting fear with facts: Why Trump’s ‘Public Charge’ law changes are bad for Coloradans
Hunger Free Colorado estimates ruling could cause an estimated 393,000 Coloradans to opt out of needed public aid programs
Susie Davis, the director of community impact for the Eagle Valley Community Foundation, has spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the effects that the Trump administration’s forthcoming changes to the “Public Charge” rule may have on the overall well-being of families in the Eagle County community.
The administration’s plan would put legal immigrants at risk of not gaining temporary or permanent residency if they use food stamps, housing support or other safety-net programs. The new rule is set to go into effect Oct. 15.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what it must feel like to wake up every morning with a sense of foreboding. Is that what our customers and neighbors face as they get their kids ready for school?” she said.
A study conducted by Protecting Immigrant Families, a campaign launched to oppose the new rule, estimated that 393,000 Colorado residents will be negatively affected, including 161,000 children.
Estimated numbers for country-wide impact found by the same study are even more staggering. Around 26 million people will be less likely to receive essential services because of the chilling effect created by the policy. This includes an estimate of 9.2 million children.
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“By threatening immigration status when immigrants use programs to meet their family’s basic needs, the rule would make immigrant families in Colorado afraid to access programs — like health care and food assistance — that support essential needs,” the study stated.
With so much misinformation and fear being spread through confusing messaging, many immigrant families are left wondering whether they will be impacted.
Defining a public charge
So what is public charge, who does it affect and how does it affect them?
The concept of public charge was first incorporated into U.S. immigration law in 1996 through an amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.
The amendment stated, “It continues to be the immigration policy of the United States that — aliens within the Nation’s borders not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their families, their sponsors, and private organizations.”
This earlier version of the public charge rule only applied to certain forms of public aid, namely cash assistance programs and long-term public medical care such as assisted living.
In October of last year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President Trump filed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which sought to broaden and strengthen the concept of public charge.
In August of 2019, the DHS published the final ruling of Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds. The new ruling states that public services which could negatively affect applications for legal permanent residence or citizenship now include Medicaid, federal food assistance programs such as SNAP and housing assistance.
‘More harm and more poverty’
Kate Kasper is the director of public policy for Hunger Free Colorado. She and her team have dedicated themselves to answering questions and providing information since the notice was first filed last fall.
“This policy will cause more people to forego health, nutrition and housing programs that help them stay healthy and stay employed,” Kasper said. “[These programs] have been proven to be effective in reducing poverty in the United States. So, in reality, decreasing the use of these benefits will cause more harm and more poverty in our country.”
These glaring negative consequences were acknowledged by the Trump administration in the new ruling.
“There are a number of consequences … worse health outcomes, including increased prevalence of obesity and malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants, or children, and reduced prescription adherence; …and increased rates of poverty,” the ruling stated.
However, Kasper said the reason studies are estimating that so many people throughout the U.S. will opt out of public aid following this announcement is because of misinformation on who the new rule applies to.
According to Protecting Immigrant Families, “Exempt immigrants include: refugees, asylees, survivors of trafficking, domestic violence, or other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders), VAWA self petitioners, special immigrant juveniles…and lawful permanent residents (green card holders) are not subject to a public charge test when they apply for U.S. citizenship.”
Kasper said the people primarily impacted by this change are immigrants with temporary protected status who are trying to adjust their immigration status through a family-based petition.
According to Kasper, even if you fall into this group, use of public aid is only one factor weighed alongside many others in what is called the “totality of circumstances” — a test used to discern whether or not someone is likely to become a public charge.
Any use of federal food assistance programs, Medicaid or housing assistance before Oct. 15, 2019, cannot be considered in determining inadmissibility based on public charge.
“I also want people to know that this isn’t over, there are many organizations that are fighting the ruling and so it could still be blocked,” Kasper said.
One of the cases brought against the ruling, this one filed by the state of California, will be heard on Oct. 2. So there is a possibility that the ruling will be knocked down before it goes into effect on Oct. 15.
National policy, local impact
One local spoke out about the effects of the ruling that she has witnessed amongst her neighbors here in Eagle County. She said many people she knows are now frightened to ask for help, which she said she thinks is unfair. Out of concern for her own safety, she asked that we refer to her as Paty.
“This rule should not be approved because immigrants come here and they work hard and they follow all of the government’s requirements including paying taxes,” Paty said. “But, unfortunately, in the case of an illness or a disability, we cannot always pay the high medical costs while also continuing to pay costs for schooling and other expenses.”
She added: “To me, it’s not fair because immigrants contribute to helping this country grow and succeed. But the government does not want to help us grow and succeed along with it.”
Hunger Free Colorado has a private and confidential Food Resource Hotline where bilingual “navigators” are available Monday through Friday to answer any questions about the new rule. Kasper said that, despite efforts to spread information, there is still a lot of confusion and fear.
“I think [the ruling] is intended to be confusing, the use of fear is part of the messaging campaign,” she said. “We anticipate that food banks and food pantries in the private sector will be flooded because so many people will opt out of federal nutrition assistance programs.”
Which brings us back to the questions posed by Susie Davis, the director of EVCF, a local nonprofit which runs a food bank in Eagle County called The Community Market.
“How do we ensure kindness and compassion, how do we expand our capacities to listen, to understand and ease fears when our customers arrive at The Community Market?” Davis said.
Kasper said the best way to support affected communities in this time of uncertainty is to fight fear with facts.
The Community Market has taken steps to make information and resources available to their customers who may be worried about the rule change. But, in Davis’s mind, showing up to support our neighbors in this time goes much deeper than that.
“We will continue to open pathways for respect, for honoring and grounding our shared commitment to building community where everyone is valued and everyone has a sense of belonging,” Davis said. “We can’t guarantee safety, but we can guarantee our commitment to trust and care.”
To learn more about the “Public Charge” rule change and the work being done in Colorado to mitigate its effects, visit protectingimmigrantfamilies.org or hungerfreecolorado.org/publiccharge/. To support the work of The Community Market, sign up to volunteer at eaglevalleycf.org/get-involved/.
Kelli Duncan is a marketing and volunteer coordinator with The Community Market, a project of Eagle Valley Community Foundation.
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