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As 'Public Charge' Rule Goes Into Effect, Child Immigrant Enrollment In Services Already Down

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Changes to the country’s “public charge” rule will make it harder for poor immigrants in America to become legal residents if they rely on safety net programs like subsidized healthcare and food benefits.

Speaker 1: 00:00 A new rule with potentially profound effects on immigrant families went into effect on Monday. The Trump administration was successful in getting the five conservative Supreme court judges to clear its public charge rule over a rare and quite strident descend from liberals, including justice Sonia Sotomayor. Joining me is KPBS border and immigration reporter max Rivlin Nadler. Well, Mack start with what exactly the public charge rule says

Speaker 2: 00:28 the public charge rule provision dates back to at least the immigration act of 1882. So it's, it's fairly deeply rooted in American immigration policy and it was amended in 1996 under the Clinton administration when there was comprehensive immigration reform to make America a lot more restrictionist and its immigration policies. The idea being that, you know, it was aimed to, uh, restrict people from getting green cards who would be primarily dependent on government, uh, than you know, anybody else who would be coming. So it'd be people who would immediately register for government programs and that would be their only source of income.

Speaker 1: 01:09 All right. In this change compared with what the situation was until uh, til just now.

Speaker 2: 01:14 Right. The change that's happening under the Trump administration is taking people who would be primarily dependent on uh, the government. So over 50% not having a job, not having any outside income, to being more likely to be dependent. So that could mean things like you don't even have to be enrolled in the programs, but you could, you know, not have a steady income. You could be working off the books like a lot of individuals are. You could be, um, having a, a brief moment of joblessness. So all of these things will be taken into consideration and this will impact how many people sign up for things like food benefits, housing vouchers and Medicaid. So vital things that people need that the government does offer in some instances to undocumented individuals and people trying to normalize their status and get a green card will no longer be something that people will be trying to pursue.

Speaker 1: 02:06 Now, I know children in the United States without documents are eligible for a medical, not adults. Is that right?

Speaker 2: 02:12 So only in a few States. California is one of the few States with along with Washington DC. And a few other States that has expanded its Medicaid program. And in California we have that as medical to impact a young people, people under 18, actually in fact this year was extended all the way to 26 who are undocumented. Um, on top of that, California is now even going further and providing these, this resource for older individuals. But the idea that people, especially young people, will be now held back from the roles out of fear of no longer being able to get status in the country will have a huge impact going forward on not only their health outcomes, but the amount of, uh, of federal funding that the state of California will get.

Speaker 1: 02:56 And that gets to the fears that many immigrant families regarding impacts should they and their children utilize support services.

Speaker 2: 03:03 Right? Let's just say you have a mixed status family, right? So let's say you do have us citizen kids or kids with a green card, but you're the parent is undocumented. The aunt, the uncle, the grandparent. Because the way the public charge rule could be applied would be, um, not in a necessarily narrowly just to that one individual, but to the family as a whole. I think you're going to see, and this is what advocates are really fearful of, is that families holding people back who are under no threat of having their status changed from these vital programs that provide them with things that are necessary such as food

Speaker 1: 03:39 and even before the new rule went into effect, medical enrollments on 11% decrease, uh, among, uh, undocumented children in the, uh, in the County. Talked to us about the impact of that.

Speaker 2: 03:50 So that was in San Diego County and it was just over 600 children left the roles between January, 2020 and January, 2019. You know, it is really tough to game out exactly what drives these decreased enrollment. We can't say it's necessarily related to the public charge rule, but again, you know, it obviously plays a role in the grand scheme of things just because the numbers are so low. Then an 11% decrease is not that many children, but it's, it's still obviously a big deal to all of those kids. I spoke with Alma [inaudible], she's an attorney at the California immigrant policy center and she'd spoke about what kind of impact, you know, this decreased enrollment and Medi-Cal will have on federal funding for California in general.

Speaker 3: 04:33 You know, per our estimates here, looking at higher medical costs for families, but also approximately $510 million lost in federal funding to the state of California.

Speaker 1: 04:43 And a similar decrease has been seen in the Cal fresh program as well. Isn't that right?

Speaker 2: 04:48 Yes, but it's, it's gone down around 10%. But undocumented children are not eligible for CalFresh, uh, because that's a federal program, uh, much like medical, but the way it's dispersed is different still. As I was saying before, you do have these mixed status families, so somebody who might be eligible, who might already have a green card legal residency, who might even be a citizen because of fears for their parents or another adult in the household, they might be being held back from these programs. And the question becomes how are they going to, how are they going to feed themselves

Speaker 1: 05:18 and are there other public services that are being looked at under the public charge rule?

Speaker 2: 05:24 Yeah, so we're really interested in looking out over the next few months how this is actually going to be applied. We obviously just went into effect on Monday. No determinations have been made. We don't know how the government is going to apply this, but it could impact things such as housing vouchers, section eight housing vouchers. So you know, not only would this kind of impact how people feed and get themselves healthcare, but also could possibly exacerbate California's housing crisis.

Speaker 1: 05:50 Well, as I said in the open a justice Sonia Sotomayor had a really unusual and and pretty descent that made a lot of news this week. Tell us about that.

Speaker 2: 06:00 Unlike a normal Supreme court argument that we're used to where lawyers from the government and the plaintiffs get up and there's a large amount of deliberations and exhibits are given and arguments and you have these kind of months pass before a decision is made. This was a ruling on an injunction. This was to stay an injunction from a lower court. So basically what soda Mario was pointing out was that there have been a string of decisions that have been stayed by, you know, a string of Trump administration rules regarding immigration that the Supreme court has kind of allowed to go into effect without necessarily seeing what the impact might be. Right? We have injunctions in these lower courts because courts can say, we're going to put a hold on this policy until we find out or till we figure out what kind of impact this will have to make sure that we're not putting something into practice that will have an impact on people in a way that you know, is illegal. Uh, instead, the Supreme court has said, we're going to go along with this and then we'll revisit this issue and do those arguments. But in the meantime, these types of policies will be able to go into effect and this has happened and things like the third country asylum ban. Um, there's a few other cases that are winding their way to the Supreme court. Again, not at the kind of this merits argument phase, but instead ruling on the injunction itself

Speaker 1: 07:19 and they're talking about this incense of a, that it's an emergency, we have to do this right now. And her whole point is, this isn't an emergency. You're simply helping the administration out.

Speaker 2: 07:29 Right? So her argument is, why are we weighing in on these injunctions before we've had an opportunity to be fully briefed to have these long arguments. And instead what you're doing is you are under the emergency pretense, able to push these policies into practice. And if you're somebody like Sotomayor on the Supreme court, that's kind of a big problem, right? Because if you can justify everything happening under an emergency, where does that end?

Speaker 1: 07:52 Well, I'm in speaking with KPBS reporter max Riverland Adler. Thanks very much, max. Thanks.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.