Immigration

Proposed Rules to Limit Legal Immigration Could Impact Thousands in Houston

Advocates are concerned how proposed rules could discourage families from enrolling their citizen children in benefits like CHIP.  

A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.
A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office.

The Trump administration is expanding the discretion immigration officers have when they decide whether or not to grant a green card or work permit, according to new rules announced this past weekend.

New standards could limit thousands of immigrants’ access to green cards and work permits in Houston.

When deciding if someone should be granted a visa, immigration officials would take into account a number of factors and determine someone’s likelihood to use an expanded list of public benefits in the future (including food stamps and Medicaid). 

Factors like income, education and age would play a role in the determination. 

“It brings in a lot of different discriminatory factors into what normally wasn’t part of the immigration process,” said Houston immigration lawyer Ruby Powers. 

Mark Greenberg, a senior fellow with the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) said the proposed rules are a significant departure from current standards, established in 1999.

“This would give the administration tremendous discretion in making judgments to deny admissions and to deny green cards to those who couldn’t meet an income standard that many Americans couldn’t meet,” said Greenberg. 

The rule could impact around 25,000 of the 35,000 people who apply for green cards and visas in Houston each year, MPI researcher Randy Capps told Houston Matters in an interview. He also said an additional 30,000 temporary visa recipients could also be impacted when they renew their visas. 

A main concern among advocates is how proposed rules could discourage families from enrolling their citizen children in benefits like the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which is part of Medicaid.

“Most people (are) afraid to use any form of benefit, which can put children who are on Medicaid or SNAP (food stamps), or other benefits, it could prevent families from wanting to use those and put children in peril,” Powers said.

In Houston and across the country, immigrants have been withdrawing from a number of public programs out of fear it could affect their legal status or lead to deportation. 

Having more people drop out of public programs like Medicaid could have a major impact on public health. 

“If people are more likely to be uninsured, they wait longer to get healthcare, more of them show up at hospital emergency rooms,” Capps noted.

“That could have an impact on the quality of service, the ability to provide service at public hospitals and also on county taxpayers,” he added. 

However, some groups favor proposed changes saying it will make the immigration system more equitable. 

“The large number of immigrant-headed households relying on government programs is a byproduct of our failed family chain migration system. Rather than select immigrants based on objective criteria – including their likelihood to succeed economically – we primarily take people based on who they are related to,” according to a Federation for American Immigration Reform statement.

 

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