Trump administration plan could deter legal immigrants from health care, other services

The Trump administration is preparing a policy change that could push legal immigrants to forgo needed health care, food and employment assistance while they seek green cards for permanent residency.

Their applications could be passed over if they use such federal programs as Medicaid, food stamps, tax credits or subsidized Obamacare insurance, according to a draft of the plan published by the Washington Post.

Even letting a child who is a U.S. citizen use such benefits could jeopardize a parent’s chances of attaining permanent residency, according to the measure.

In California, programs considered off-limits would include Medi-Cal, CalFresh, CalWorks and health insurance purchased through Covered California.

According to Ninez Ponce, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, that proposed rule in California would hit the Asian and Pacific Islander population hardest.

A high proportion of legal immigrants are Asians, Ponce said. “What it means is those who are waiting for permanent status may not use needed services like health care, or get job training through CalWorks. It means immigrants would have less access to services that help integrate them into society.”

The rule is far from done. The Department of Homeland Security sent a version of the proposal to the Office of Management and Budget for review on March 29. It must be published as a proposed rule and opened to public comment before it can become law.

But, this being California, resistance has begun. “The Asian American Pacific Islander groups have already been mobilizing,” Ponce said, in part to be ready to speak up during the 60-day comment period.

California is home to more than 10 million immigrants, more than a fourth of California’s population, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. That’s about twice the percentage in the rest of the U.S. And in seven California counties, the foreign-born population tops 30%. Half of the state’s children have at least one immigrant parent.

Most recent immigrants to California come from Asia, according to the PPIC. Between 2012 and 2016, roughly 58% were from Asia and about 28% from Latin America. According to the Center for Migration Studies, roughly half of the state’s immigrants are naturalized citizens, one quarter have some kind of legal status and the other quarter are undocumented.

Ponce said Washington’s proposed rule will have “a chilling effect,” causing immigrants and their families to use fewer social services and ramping up fear in their communities.

“I personally believe getting on these public programs helps new immigrants and their families,” Ponce said. Restricting them “is going to have profound effects on individuals and families.”

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