Looming Nightmare If Trump Forces Immigrant Families to Choose Food vs. Legal Status

August 13th, 2018

Immigrant advocates and health experts break down the potential damage

NEW YORK, NY - Today, the New York Immigration Coalition held a press call with health experts and community members to brief the media on a potential new rule from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that could make immigrant families choose between using public health, food, and housing programs, and maintaining their legal status in the U.S.

If the rule is proposed and approved, many legal immigrants could be at serious risk of being unable to renew their visas or become permanent residents if they apply for certain federal programs. Additionally, this rule could prompt immigrants to decline lifesaving services to which they are legally entitled. The rule would affect programs for children, many of whom are U.S. citizens in mixed status families.

Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, issued the following statement:

"Trump could inflict widespread suffering upon immigrant families, forcing an impossible choice between legal status and the safety and well-being of their loved ones. Under the pending rule change, infants could go hungry, children could lose their health insurance, and immigrant families could struggle to heat their homes and keep a roof over their heads. Our state and country were built by immigrants who succeeded with support from our nation’s health, social, and educational programs. Today’s immigrant communities should have the same opportunities."

“The connection between optimal health and development of children has always been tightly linked to their access to public benefits including supplemental nutrition programs, health insurance and. If proposed, the enforcement of an even stricter public charge rule could increase fear in accessing these programs among immigrant families and their children, even US citizen children. The results could be devastating- children and families pushed deeper into poverty,  limited access to preventive care services, increased reliance on emergency room visits- all ultimately leading to worsened health outcomes,” said Omolara Thomas Uwemedimo, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Occupational Medicine, Epidemiology and Prevention, Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell; Program Director, GLOhBAL (Global Learning. Optimizing health. Building Alliances Locally), Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York; Adjunct Assistant Professor, MPH Program, Hofstra University School of Health Professions.

This proposed rule could penalize many immigrants for participating in federal assistance programs such as:

  • Nutrition programs, ie: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) that support mothers, infants, children and families;

  • Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and other tax credits to help purchase health insurance;

  • Earned Income Tax Credit;

  • Heating assistance and housing support.


The public charge rule has not yet been proposed, and no changes to consideration of it have been made at this time. DHS’s proposed rule could replace existing guidelines that define a “public charge.” Currently, someone designated as a “public charge” is primarily dependent on a limited set of public benefits, including cash assistance and institutionalized long-term care. This pending rule could expand the definition of “public charge” to include a broader array of federal, state, and municipal programs upon which working families depend.

Before being enacted, the proposed rule is subject to a 60-day public comment period.

If enacted, immigration officials must consider the “totality of circumstances” to determine if a visa applicant is likely to depend on government assistance in the future. Circumstances include:

  • income

  • resources

  • age

  • family situation

  • health

Under federal law, certain immigrant populations are exempt from public charge consideration, including:

  • refugees

  • asylum seekers

  • survivors of trafficking

  • victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes (T or U visa applicants/holders)

  • VAWA self-petitioners

  • special immigrant juveniles

  • certain parolees.

Legal permanent residents are not subject to public charge scrutiny when they apply for citizenship. Undocumented immigrants and many other immigrant groups are already barred from using federal benefit programs.