By Theresa Covington, director of the Within Our Reach Office at the Alliance

A little known immigration policy called the “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” enables immigration officers to determine whether an applicant for a green card or an individual seeking to enter the U.S. on a visa are likely to access welfare, TANF, or other government support. This determination can impact the decision-making in who is allowed to enter the country.

In the past, however, there have been exceptions to the public charge grounds. Because our country believes everyone should have access to basic needs, such as nutrition, health care and housing, use of publicly-funded programs that provide access to these have been excluded from the public charge determination.  Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have even eliminated the federal five-year waiting period for lawfully residing children and pregnant women allowing them to access both Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

That is about to change.

The Trump Administration has proposed an expansion to the list of publicly-funded programs that immigration officers may consider in determining if an immigrant is likely to become a public charge. The list now includes basic needs programs such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing assistance and federally subsidized housing. The new proposal would also consider any use of a cash assistance program (not just TANF and SSI).

The new rules are expected to take effect as soon as October 15, 2019. It is expected that 8.3 million children will be at risk of losing benefits from Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Five and a half million of these children have serious medical conditions, including asthma, epilepsy and cancer.  Losing benefits will put all of these children at greater risk for bad health outcomes. Is this what our nation wants? 

Imagine if these draconian rules had been in place after the Holocaust when many survivors emigrated to the United States with no family and no money.  People like Elie Wiesel who survived Auschwitz and came to the U.S. in 1956 as a penniless teenager. He went on to author 40 books about the Holocaust and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 

Jan Koum was born in Ukraine and came to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. His family was so poor that they relied on food stamps to eat. Jan went on to found WhatsApp, which was recently acquired by Facebook for more than $19 billion. Koum has donated generously over the years. He donated 12.6 million shares of Facebook to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation between 2014 and 2016. He also gave $114 million of his fortune to the Goldman Sachs Philanthropy Fund in 2016.

We are a nation of immigrants. Our strength is based on our diversity and the uniquely American belief that anyone can succeed and achieve the American Dream. The majority of immigrants come to America with the goal of finding freedom – freedom to work, freedom to care for their families, freedom of religion, and the freedom to live in peace. 

Let’s not lose our compassion and care for all children, regardless of how they arrived in America. Let’s make sure all children living here have the chance to not just achieve the American Dream, but to give back to our nation when they reach adulthood.  And let’s not lose what truly makes America great – our people.

About the Author

Theresa Martha Covington is the director of the Within Our Reach Office funded by Casey Family Programs and housed within the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities. She is the director of the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths, a position she has held at the Michigan Public Health Institute since 2003. Formerly, she served as a commissioner on the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.