The traditional American Dream refers to a classic rag-to-riches story; the self-made visionaries who worked tirelessly to provide a better life for themselves have become integral to the image of the American success story. Understandably, once immigrants arrive in the U.S., they often need assistance in order to adjust to a new country. But what happens when accepting necessary social services, like seeking medical care for children, put their American Dream at risk?
The Trump Administration’s proposed changes to the “public charge” rule, which dramatically expands the federal government’s ability to reject an immigrant’s residency application if the immigrant is likely to be dependent on government. Previously, the government could only consider cash benefits, like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), in public charge cases. Under the proposed changes, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can reject an immigrant’s residency application if any of the following services were used for more than six months in the last two years: enrollment in Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), purchase of subsidized insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or transit vouchers. Additionally, any of the following factors could be weighed against immigrants seeking residency: having a medical condition that could interfere with work or school, not having private health insurance, have a low credit score, not speaking English, or receiving a fee waiver from the Department of Homeland Security for any immigration-related paperwork.
As part of the Trump administration’s tightening of immigration, the proposed changes to the ‘public charge’ rule are no surprise. However, threats of rejecting immigration applications for those who accept public services hurts the people who need it the most. Research shows that recent immigrants are more likely to face greater labor challenges than immigrants in the past. Discrimination of ethnic minorities leads to low-wage occupation for both legal and unauthorized immigrants, which has lead increased wage gaps between citizens and immigrants over the past several decades. Research also shows that immigrants use far fewer healthcare services than citizens. In particular, undocumented immigrants, a group of 11 million unauthorized immigrants, only account for 1.4% of total medical expenditures in the U.S., even thought they make up 5% of the population.
We see how data shows that immigrants as a whole use fewer social services, such as publicly funded healthcare services, than citizens, even when immigrant wages have been steadily decreasing. It is then reasonable to assume that immigrants only use public benefits when necessary, contrary to the Trump administration’s desire to depict immigrants as a drain on the economy.
The proposed changes to the public charge rule affect low-income legal immigrants and indirectly target those with pre-existing health conditions. If the changes are finalized, the ten million immigrants who use some form of public services would be in danger of losing their status as legal residents. The impact of this proposed regulation would ask parents to make the choice between enrolling their children in health coverage and risk having to leave the United States, or forgo necessary healthcare in order to keep their legal residency.
By expanding the “public charge” criteria, immigrants inherently face difficult choices. Not only will their probabilities of receiving permanent residency decrease, but their potential contributions to American society will be lost. For those who rely on publicly funding healthcare for pre-existing conditions, the Trump Administration is sending the message that their citizenship is of no benefit to us. Public outrage is reasonable when the American Dream is no longer attainable for millions of immigrant families.