Health, immigration officials worry Trump Administration’s public charge changes could deter immigrants from accessing eligible benefits |

Health, immigration officials worry Trump Administration’s public charge changes could deter immigrants from accessing eligible benefits

Mountain Family Health Centers Advocacy Coordinator Danyelle Rigli.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Health-care advocates and immigration attorneys say that forthcoming changes to the public charge rule continue to fuel fear and cause confusion among local immigrant communities.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services defines “public charge” as an individual likely to rely primarily on the government for subsistence. The public charge test generally applies to those seeking permanent residency via a green card or someone applying for non-immigrant or other temporary benefits.

Currently, the public charge test mainly examines the applicant’s usage of cash assistance programs or long-term institutional care paid for by the government.

The new public charge test, which takes effect Oct. 15, would expand that inquiry to also review the applicant’s usage of Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, public housing and food stamps.

“It is called the chilling effect where people are pulling out of benefits that they are eligible for, or that their children are eligible for,” Mountain Family Health Centers Advocacy Coordinator Danyelle Rigli said. “Clinics and doctors’ offices are seeing bigger no-show rates because of this.”

“People are really self-isolating and changing their behavior because of that fear,” added Rigli.

She said the new public charge rule does not take into account usage of school-based nutrition services, public education, the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+), Affordable Care Act (ACA) tax credits, or sliding fee scales.

“There are some other exemptions such as asylum seekers, refugees, survivors of trafficking, and other serious crimes,” Rigli said.

According to the Protecting Immigrant Families, Advancing Our Future (“PIF”) campaign, the Trump Administration’s updated public charge rule has the potential to impact 393,000 people in Colorado including 161,000 children.

The Protecting Immigrant Families campaign maintains that the administration’s finalized public charge rule makes it more difficult for immigrants reliant on public benefits to receive a green card.

Glenwood Springs-based immigration attorney Ted Hess argued that the new public charge rule puts an unfair emphasis on wealth and literacy.

“Let’s say you have an American citizen that wants to immigrate his undocumented bride,” Hess explained. “If his new bride is healthy, 21-years-old, has a high school diploma, speaks English, and her husband makes at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level, his wife will get in,” Hess said.

However, if that same American citizen attempted to immigrate his 65-year-old, diabetic mother that did not speak English, the new public charge rule would make such a task nearly impossible, Hess said.

“This is Stephen Miller. The evil genius in the White House,” Hess said of President Trump’s senior advisor. “I have seen an uptick in concern about the issue, no question about it.”

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