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Trump Team May Make Head Start, CHIP a Hurdle for Green Card Applicants

The Trump administration is considering making it more difficult for immigrant families to become lawful permanent residents of the United States if they use certain social services, such as Head Start, the Children's Health Insurance Program, or food stamps. 

The news organizations Reuters and Vox were the first to write about the possibility. Vox posted a draft of the proposal, which has not been officially published by the administration. If the policy were to become a reality, however, it would mark a sharp departure from current rules, which do not allow authorities to negatively evaluate a green-card applicant who uses most taxpayer-funded public benefits.

The federal government has long been able to deny permanent residency to a person deemed to be a "public charge," or supported by the government. Generally, direct cash benefits (welfare) and government-funded long-term care are considered in these determinations..

People seeking a green card could still use public benefits. But the draft regulation would greatly expand the number of benefits considered to be part of a public charge. In addition to Head Start, CHIP and food stamps, families could find themselves penalized for accepting transportation vouchers or homeless assistance under the McKinney-Vento Act, according to the draft document. Families receiving state and local public assistance programs might also find themselves considered a public charge. Current law specifically excludes those benefits from public-charge determinations. 

From the Reuters article: 

"It's going to scare a lot of people into yanking their children off of needed health-care, school programs, child nutrition programs, basic sorts of subsistence-level programs that have kept the population healthy and employable," said Charles Wheeler, director of training and legal support at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.

A 2017 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that 5.5 percent of immigrant households with children received cash assistance, compared to 6.3 percent of native households. Four percent of immigrant households used housing assistance, compared to 5 percent of native households. And about 46 percent of immigrant households used Medicaid, compared to 34 percent of native households.

Conservatives have long expressed concerns about noncitizens' access to public benefits, saying it is a drain on resources that should go to U.S. citizens.

"Efforts to limit immigrant access to these programs mostly have not been very successful," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors stricter immigration policies.

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