Immigration activists decry Supreme Court’s public charge ruling

Michigan DHHS outlines who’s impacted

By: and - February 2, 2020 7:22 am

Pro-immigration protest outside the second Democratic debate | Ken Coleman

Activists are warning of the consequences from the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the President Trump administration to deny resident status for immigrants who rely on public assistance like Medicaid or housing subsidies.

According to the new interpretation of the public charge rule, immigrants applying for green cards are prohibited from using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), housing vouchers, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). 

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 Monday to allow the administration’s guidelines to move forward.

“From profiling women who appear to be pregnant to barring Muslims and African immigrants from the country, this administration continues its all-out assault on legal immigration – particularly the working poor and immigrants of color,” said Tyler Moran, executive director of the Immigration Hub. “While Trump thinks this is a winning strategy for November, the American public wants smart solutions to fix our immigration system, not one-liners for a campaign rally and policies that separate families. This strategy failed in 2018 and it will fail again in 2020.”

While the rule doesn’t apply to those with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, victim-based visa holders or people who are seeking or have been granted political asylum, activists say confusion around the law has already had a chilling effect on the entire immigrant community.

The long-standing interpretation of the law only focused on those receiving cash aid to supplement income or long-term medical aid. The new interpretation expanded the types of public assistance received for more than 12 months in any 36-month period.

Last year, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) sent out an open letter outlining what the changes mean because there was a lot of “confusion.” DHHS Director Robert Gordon said the “vast majority of immigrant and noncitizen legal residents now receiving Michigan DHHS services and supports can continue to do so without jeopardizing their immigration status.”

He said the proposed rule does not affect individuals who are already citizens or are in the application or renewal process for a green card. The rule only affects legal immigrants if they leave the country for more than six months and need approval for readmission. Eligible children are not exempt from public assistance under the new rule.

Family members receiving benefits will will not affect individuals in their application for citizenship, Gordon wrote. And emergency Medicaid, Medicaid coverage for pregnant women and Medicaid coverage for those younger than 21 will not be held against an immigrant under the rule.

“We will again communicate the message below to the immigrants we serve and their families,” Gordon wrote on Twitter this week.

Changes to the public charge rule were slated to go into effect Oct. 15, but legal challenges in federal courts help up implementation. 

Attorneys General from 14 states, including Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, had filed a lawsuit requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the federal government from implementing the rule while a lawsuit by their states moves forward.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged support for the No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act of 2019 (H.R. 3222), which would nullify the new policy. The bill has four Michigan co-sponsors: U.S. Reps. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn).

“The Supreme Court’s decision will further marginalize immigrant communities and will inevitably create a socioeconomic hierarchy in our immigration system,” said CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw. “The Trump administration’s policy could quite literally kill people by making them too afraid to seek life-saving medical care, and the Supreme Court seems to agree such a cruel system is acceptable.”

Mi Familia Vota, a national civic Latino and immigrant engagement organization, called the latest ruling an attack on working-class families.

“Allowing the government to say who can and cannot become a citizen based on an expectation that they may use public assistance is not only un-American but will hurt millions of immigrants and 12 million U.S. citizen family members, almost two-thirds of them with children,” said Hector Sanchez, executive director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota. “Make no mistake, this will hurt American families, complicating the lives of millions needlessly.”

A version of this story first ran in the Advance‘s sister publication, the Nevada Current.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle is a reporter for the Nevada Current. He has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit.