Immigrants refuse aid for fear of green card denial

Immigrants refuse aid for fear of green card denialNEW YORK: When she was struggling financially this past year, Laura Peniche traveled all over Denver to get free food from churches to feed her three young children. She was too scared to apply for government food assistance.

When she was offered a chance a few weeks ago to get a reduced-rent apartment through a city program, she turned it down. Instead, she stretches her budget to pay several hundred dollars a month more to rent somewhere else.

It was all because of rumors she heard that immigrants seeking green cards would be rejected if they had ever used government aid programs.

Now the Trump administration has proposed a rule change that would codify some of those rumors, and immigrants and their advocates are scrambling to figure out what it means if it takes effect. They worry that the measure is a back-door attempt to restrict immigration by low-income people and that it could make immigrants fearful of using social services that they or their families need.

Peniche wonders if she needs to do even more, like avoid using a local government-funded preschool program for the youngest of her children, all American-born.

“Since it’s government help, I feel like I can’t use it,” said Peniche, 34, who came from Mexico as a teen and has protection from deportation under DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. She still has hopes of someday getting a chance to apply for permanent legal residency, so she doesn’t feel like she can risk using any kind of government aid, even for her kids.

“I feel like any little thing … would be used to keep me from being a resident,” she said.

The administration’s proposal is centered on whether an immigrant seeking a green card is considered a “public charge” dependent on the government.

Until now, the guidelines in use since 1999 referred to someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support for long-term institutionalization. The Department of Homeland Security wants to redefine a “public charge” as someone who is likely to receive public benefits at any time. And the definition has been broadened to include SNAP or food assistance, Medicaid, housing assistance or subsidies for Medicare Part D.

Refugees or asylum seekers would be exempt, and the rule would not be applied retroactively, the government said.

An average 544,000 people apply annually for a green card, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to this review, according to the government.

The revised rule “seeks to better ensure that applicants for admission to the United States … are self-sufficient, i.e., do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities and the resources of their family, sponsor and private organizations,” the proposal said. AP

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