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Fear Of New Rule Might Be Impacting Immigrant Applications For Public Benefits

Oralia Sandoval, center, holds her son Benjamin, 6, as she participates in an...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: Oralia Sandoval, center, holds her son Benjamin, 6, as she participates in an Immigrants Day of Action rally, in Sacramento, Calif. Gov., Monday, May 20, 2019.

In a matter of days, the government is expected to publish a new rule that would disqualify immigrants from legal residency if they've used a variety of public benefits.

But anticipation of this rule might have already had a chilling effect on immigrant applications for food and health benefits in San Diego County.

The number of all child recipients of CalFresh, which provides supplemental food benefits, was down by almost 10% over a year ago. The number of undocumented children in Medi-Cal, which provides health coverage, was also down by 8%.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler

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Lillian Serrano, the chair of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium, says that the proposed new rule has discouraged immigrant families from signing up for any public benefits.

“We’re all getting these questions, should I enroll, should I dis-enroll?,” Seerano told KPBS. “The reality is that as advocates, we can give everyone all the information that’s relevant to their case, but at the end of the day it’s a personal decision to decide to enroll or not enroll, even if it’s something as needed as Medi-Cal or CalFresh.

According to the latest draft of the rule, it would have no impact on immigrants who have already received a green card or other types of status. But Serrano says the fear of how this will be applied remains.

“What we’re seeing is a federal government that’s at war with immigrants,” Serrano said. “If you’re a mixed-status family, for example you might be a U.S.-born citizen, but people in your family are immigrants, regardless if you’re here legally or not, you’re in fear. And fear can make people do a lot of things.”

County officials have drawn no conclusions on whether enrollments dropped because of the proposed new rule and have cited a strong economy and low unemployment rate as another possible explanation.

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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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