February 12, 2018

Trump admin may consider use of CHIP, ACA subsidies in immigration decisions

Daily Briefing

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has drafted rules that would make it more difficult for non-citizens to become permanent U.S. residents if they or any of their U.S.-born children receive certain public benefits, such as subsidies to offset health insurance premiums.

    Draft rule details

    According to Reuters, the draft rules state, "Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the U.S. government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors, or private organizations." They continue, "[A non-citizen's] receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for [non-citizens] to immigrate to the United States."

    As such, the draft rules would direct government officials to consider "any government assistance in the form of cash, checks, or other forms of money transfers, or instrument and non-cash government assistance in the form of aid, services, or other relief" that non-citizens receive when considering whether the individuals are eligible to remain in the United States. According to Reuters, the draft rules specifically state that government officials should consider benefits such as CHIP, SNAP, and health insurance subsidies provided under the Affordable Care Act, among others, when evaluating eligibility. If individuals received the benefits for more than six months within the two years prior to seeking a new visa or green card to remain in the United States, they would receive a "heavily weighted" strike against their eligibility, Vox reports.

    According to Reuters, the draft rules, if finalized, would constitute a significant shift from current guidance that has been in effect since 1999. Under current guidance, officials consider a small number of public benefits non-citizens receive when applying to remain in the United States, but are barred from considering most non-cash benefits, such as government-funded food assistance.

    DHS spokesperson Tyler Houlton said, "The [Trump] administration is committed to enforcing existing immigration law, which is clearly intended to protect the American taxpayer." He added, "Any potential changes to the rule would be in keeping with the letter and spirit of the law–as well as the reasonable expectations of the American people for the government to be good stewards of taxpayer funds."

    According to Vox, the draft rules are dated Feb. 6 and have been circulated among DHS employees. L. Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, has not yet approved the draft rules, but sources say the draft rules could be sent to the Office of Management and Budget as soon as March, Vox reports.

    Implications

    The draft rules would not apply to permanent residents applying for U.S. citizenship, Reuters reports. They also would not apply to asylees or refugees, according to Vox.

    The draft rules would apply to non-citizens who have temporary permission to live and work in the United States and seek new visas or green cards, Vox reports. According to Reuters, DHS statistics show that nearly 383,000 people who received green cards in 2016 would have been affected by the draft rules if they had been implemented at that time.

    Some experts and officials expressed concerns that the draft rules would discourage non-citizens from using services for which they are eligible. For instance, Charles Wheeler, director of training and legal support at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, said such a policy change would "scare a lot of people into yanking their children off of needed health care, school programs, child nutrition programs, basic sorts of subsistence-level programs that have kept the population healthy and employable" (Torbati, Reuters, 2/8; Lind, Vox, 2/8).

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