Date: October 2018

Proposed Regulation Threatens Colorado Families

Courtney O'Reilly

On October 10, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a proposal to change the definition of a “public charge” when considering an individual’s application to legally enter the U.S., renew a visa or change their nonimmigrant status. If adopted, the proposal could negatively impact an estimated 323,000 Coloradans––including 143,000 children.

As an organization dedicated to improving the lives of Colorado’s low-income children and their families, Gary Community Investments is concerned by how this proposal would harm Coloradans, and is firmly against its adoption.

Below you can find more information about the proposed changes to public charge and the subsequent impact on immigrant families, including what you can do to help prevent the proposal from being adopted. Thank you to the Colorado Center on Law and Policy for the use of their fact sheet to help us explain this complicated regulation.

What is a public charge?

Under federal immigration law, “public charge” is used to describe a person who is dependent on government-funded cash assistance (TANF and SSI) or Medicaid Long Term Care for the majority of support. If it is determined that an individual is likely to become a “public charge,” their application to enter the U.S. or become a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) may be denied. The public charge test does not apply to certain immigrants, including refugees, those seeking asylum and victims of trafficking. It also does not apply during the process of applying for citizenship.

How is the public charge assessment applied under current law?

  • Applies only when an individual is seeking to immigrate to the U.S. or get their “green card”
  • ​Asks whether the individual is likely to become dependent on government in the future
  • Must consider age, health, family status, financial status and education/skills
  • Must consider the totality of the factors, meaning no single factor is determinative
  • May consider past or current receipt of government-funded cash assistance or institutionalization
  • May not consider receipt of other public benefits

What are the proposed changes to the public charge rule?

  • Use of “public benefits” would now make someone a public charge.
  • SNAP, housing assistance, non-emergency Medicaid, and Medicare Part D would be included in the list of “public benefits.”
  • The public charge test would be applied beyond applications for entry and green cards to individuals seeking to renew a visa or adjust from one nonimmigrant status to another.

What are the possible impacts of this change on families?

  • If someone continues to enroll in certain public benefits, they may be unable to obtain green card status and will remain without documentation indefinitely. This will put people at risk of deportation and family separation.
  • ​If they disenroll from public benefits that they are eligible for, they may go hungry and/or skip necessary medical care, which has negative long-term effects.
  • Denying a legal path to immigration will result in more people becoming undocumented, more families living in fear of losing a loved one to deportation and more separated families.
  • Although the rule change does not evaluate the use of benefits by family members not applying or renewing legal status, the leaked draft of the rule already substantially increased fears in immigrant communities and some are disenrolling from benefits.
  • The state’s economy could lose up to $417 million in economic activity and more than 2,800 jobs.

Why does GCI oppose these changes?

When the proposal was drafted earlier this year, it included the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as one of the public benefits that fell under the expanded public charge status. Although we were relieved to see the EITC removed from the official proposal, we are still concerned that programs like SNAP, Medicaid/Medicare and housing assistance are included. These supports make it possible for many working families to meet their basic needs. Without these resources, 323,000 Coloradans may not have the resources needed to help them reach self-sufficiency.

GCI is committed to helping prepare all children for educational and economic success from an early age, while simultaneously equipping their parents with the tools they need to create healthy family environments and build long-term financial security. One of the best ways to strengthen our communities is to ensure that all families are able to access the supports they need to thrive. These changes force families to choose between utilizing proven public support programs and staying in the country legally.

In short, we believe this change in regulation will have long-term negative impacts on Colorado’s low-income children from immigrant families.

What can you do to help?

Below are ways you and/or your organization can help prevent this proposal from being adopted:

  • Submit a comment to the federal register during the 60-day public comment period, which will end Monday, December 10. See here for tips on submitting a public comment.
  • ​If you work with immigrant families, encourage them to continue their participation in these beneficial programs. If the rule is adopted, it will not consider use of public programs before the date it becomes final. See additional talking points here.
  • Call or email your state and federal representatives, the governor, and other policymakers to express your concern.
  • Write blog posts, letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and other public commentary that explains how dangerous this change would be for Coloradans.
  • Share articles on social media about the rule change and its consequences. Here are a few we would recommend: NBC News, Modern Healthcare, and NPR. Join the conversation with #ProtectFamilies
  • Collect and share stories from individuals who will be directly impacted by this change.

Learn more about this issue and how you can take action by heading to the Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future campaign.