One in four children in America lives in a household with at least one immigrant parent. Recently-proposed changes to the process of gaining citizenship could have major repercussions for communities and programs engaging with these families. Most importantly, these proposed changes could directly affect immigrant families and children.
On Oct. 10, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) posted a proposed Public Charge Rule for comment in the Federal Register. Comments will be accepted on the proposed rule until Dec. 10, 2018. The proposed rule would change the threshold for becoming what the government defines as “public charge.”
What is public charge?
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 specified that a non-citizen is ineligible for admission to the U.S. if the government determines that the individual is likely to become a public charge, meaning “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” Dependence on the government is currently defined by the use of cash benefit programs, such as payments provided through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).The determination is based on the immigrant’s circumstances — including age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills.
Currently, a non-citizen determined likely to use cash assistance or government-funded long-term institutional care above a designated amount is ineligible to become a citizen and Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has rarely turned people away on public charge grounds because most immigrants are already barred from using many forms of public assistance, and most green card applications require a financial sponsor with an income of at least 125 percent of the poverty line.
What would change under the rule?
The proposed policy expands the list of benefits considered in a public charge determination, so that immigrants who are deemed likely to use certain health care, nutrition, and housing programs could become inadmissible to obtain citizenship or change the status of their visa. DHS proposes to require all immigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule. Some programs being proposed to be added include:
Currently, the law requires that an immigrant’s sponsor sign an “affidavit of support,” showing their ability to support the immigrant at a minimum of 125 percent of the federal poverty level. The proposed rule would require that the immigrant household (not just the sponsor) earn at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and it wouldn’t be until a household income is at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (or about $62,750 for a family of four) that income would weigh as a “heavily positive” factor. Given that the immigrant trajectory takes time, and that children of immigrants often build on the efforts of their parents, this newly proposed rule could be a significant obstacle for many and ultimately detrimental to the U.S economy overall.
Furthermore, because immigration officers would be determining whether a non-citizen is “likely to become a public charge” at any point in the future, there are additional factors that DHS proposes to scrutinize as well, including being younger than 18, which could negatively affect young people.
How does this impact federal support for afterschool?
Notably, this list does not include (and specifically exempts) education and child development programs, like 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC), school and afterschool child nutrition programs, and Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). It also excludes job training programs and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP). However, the federal register notice specifically requests public comments about whether CHIP should be included as a public benefit. The rule also exempts Medicaid services provided through schools.
While federally funded afterschool programs are not included, many afterschool advocates are joining advocates from the children’s health, anti-hunger, immigrant rights, and education communities to express concern over the administration's proposal as it could mean children and families will avoid support they need. Among the concerns:
While none of these supports are part of the administration's "public charge" rule, participation could still drop due to a lack of accurate information or the spread of misinformation, which would result in young people missing valuable opportunities to help them reach their full potential.
What happens next?
Comments are being accepted by the Department of Homeland Security on the public charge rule until Dec. 10, 2018. The Afterschool Alliance’s comment letter can be accessed here and can be used as a template. Friends of afterschool and child advocates are encouraged to comment on the proposed rule here.
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