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"Public Charge" Proposal Already Scaring Immigrant Families

Some immigrant families in Washington state are shying away from getting prenatal care and other medical assistance because of a Trump administration proposal. (maginnis/Twenty20)
Some immigrant families in Washington state are shying away from getting prenatal care and other medical assistance because of a Trump administration proposal. (maginnis/Twenty20)
December 7, 2018

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The public comment window closes Monday on a Trump administration proposal that would make it harder for people to obtain legal status if they've received public assistance. Immigrants' rights groups say it already is affecting communities.

The "public charge" rule change would make it more difficult for some people to get green cards if they receive specific types of benefits – including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food aid, and Medicaid.

Liz Darrow, media coordinator with the immigrants' advocacy group Community to Community Development, says even though the rule hasn't yet been modified, folks are afraid to seek the health-care services they need.

"We're seeing a lot of fear in communities about seeking prenatal care, or seeking treatment for ongoing conditions that could have long-term, adverse impacts – not just on the individuals, but their families and then, our community. And so, we're looking at this as more of a public health crisis," says Darrow.

Proponents of the change say the new rule would promote self-sufficiency and save taxpayers money. Comments can be submitted online at

Fear over the public charge proposal could also compromise efforts to open access to social services for Whatcom County immigrants. The county council passed a resolution this week supporting a Public Health Advisory Board task force that will evaluate how well the county is helping immigrant families – both documented and undocumented.

Whatcom County Health Department Director Regina Delahunt says a raid in Bellingham this summer and its effects on the detained men's families prompted the county to look at access to services, and the public charge rule plays a role.

"Even though the public charge rule hasn't been changed, they haven't made the modifications to it, the families are already aware of that,” says Delahunt. “And so, they're already very reluctant to enroll in some of the services that they need. So then, it's falling back on the locals to really assist the families."

Darrow says the Whatcom County resolution faced an uphill battle, and the area has refused to expand protections for undocumented Washingtonians in the past, such as when the Bellingham City Council rejected sanctuary status. She says it's undermining a sense of security for undocumented people there.

"This is a problem that needs to be addressed, and especially if the public charge rule is expanded,” says Darrow. “But even as it is right now, we have a large community of folks who don't feel safe and secure here."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA