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Public Charge Rule Stokes Fear in ID Immigrant Communities

A new rule could affect roughly 70% of people who apply for green cards each year. (leekris/Adobe Stock)
A new rule could affect roughly 70% of people who apply for green cards each year. (leekris/Adobe Stock)
February 14, 2020

BOISE, Idaho -- A change to how public-assistance programs weigh on a person's citizenship application is shaking Idaho's immigrant community.

What's known as the "public charge rule" will allow the Department of Homeland Security to penalize potential citizens for their use of public benefits such as Medicaid and food assistance. It even could factor into denying them citizenship. After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month, the new regulation will go into effect Feb. 24, but Sam Byrd, executive director of Idaho's Centro de Comunidad y Justicia, said the rule sowed fear as soon as it was floated in 2018.

"The impact on the community was instant," he said. "In other words, it isn't happening now as a result of what has been passed - it happened when it was proposed."

Byrd said some people have given up the benefits they qualify for because of the new rule, noting that about 18,000 U.S. citizens have left the Children's Health Insurance Program since the announcement. The Trump administration has said it's protecting taxpayers and wants to ensure that people applying for citizenship are self-sufficient.

Byrd said fear of the public charge rule has put his organization and others that provide community services for immigrants in a tough position. He said Comunidad y Justicia is focusing on two priorities; The first is letting people who are eligible know that they can continue using these programs.

"The other one," he said, "is that we have to look at, OK, what other alternatives are we going to have at the community level to be able to respond to those children and those family members that are going to get sick and that are not going to seek help?"

Of about 540,000 people who apply for green cards in the United States each year, roughly 380,000 could be subject to review under this change, according to research by the Associated Press.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID