The anti-immigrant rhetoric used by the Trump administration has been well-documented in the media — and it may not be too long before it’s documented in law. In particular, immigrants are fearful that their involvement in government benefits programs could be held against them when trying to obtain a green card. And while no policies have been officially changed as yet, many immigrants are so worried about being denied permanent residency that they’re dropping out of the nutritional and health insurance programs their families need.
The White House has made no secret of the fact that a new rule pertaining to visa renewals and green card approval may be in the works. In a leak earlier this year, it was discovered that the current administration would like to allow the government to deny these documents to any immigrant who had participated in social welfare programs. These programs include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), HeadStart, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program.
The U.S. Congress’ Immigration Act of 1990 created the Immigrant Investor Program to convince wealthy entrepreneurs to come here and invest. America has not been so kind to those immigrants who aren’t as affluent. While you cannot come to the United States if the government has reason to believe you’ll be dependent on federal benefits, families who immigrate are eligible for government benefits like these after they’ve lived here for at least five years. Although there’s a misconception that immigrants both legal and illegal abuse these systems, data suggests that legal immigrants use these benefits at a much lower rate than U.S. citizens do — and of course, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for the majority of government aid programs at all.
It’s already been established that adult individuals applying for green cards or visa renewals might have their use of public benefits taken into consideration. The shift families are worried about now is that using the programs to help their children — who are often born in the United States and are therefore automatic citizens — would be held against them.
That worry has prompted families to drop these benefits programs in droves. Service providers and other organizations are saying they’ve noticed significant declines in program participation and that these declines coincide with Trump’s election, as well as other key moments during his administration thus far. While WIC program enrollment has declined as the national economy has improved, enrollment in that program dropped by 462 cases in November 2016 — the month Trump was elected president. When Trump took office in January 2017, 640 families left that program. And when public assistance crackdown documents were leaked throughout 2018, more than 800 cases were lost during periods that sync up to those leaks. Food stamp enrollment has fallen as well: this May, there were only 39.3 million people receiving SNAP benefits, which represents a 2.1 million decrease from just a year earlier.
Health providers are reporting they’ve received concerned phone calls from immigrant families who demand that they be able to drop these program benefits. Some have simply stopped picking up their vouchers and stamps out of fear. Agencies in at least 18 states report that program enrollment has dropped by up to 20%, and they feel that change is largely due to how scared immigrant families are about potential changes to immigration policies.
Of course, dropping these programs could have serious consequences for these families. While 68% of consumers say they sometimes or frequently make shopping decisions while in the car, families affected by this change likely won’t have much of an opportunity to make impulse buys at the grocery store. Already, families have reported they’re not able to buy as much food to feed their families and have to struggle even harder to make ends meet. Physicians and health advocates are also stressing that any changes in policy could put newborns at risk of disease and low birth weight. Since WIC serves nearly half of all babies born in the U.S., as well as breastfeeding moms and their families, massive drop-outs and amendments to visa and green card policies could result in major health concerns.
The proposal has not been officially filed yet, but it’s only a matter of time before officials announce this policy. If and when it goes through, legal immigrants could find it extremely difficult (if not impossible) to remain in the United States and to care for their families. So much for the American Dream.