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Monday Is The Last Day To Comment On Proposed ‘Public Charge’ Immigration Rule

Nearly 200,000 people have made public comment both for and against the proposed rule that would have immigration officials factor in potential and past benefits use and income when deciding to grant a visa.

Elizabeth Trovall/Houston Public Media
Esmeralda Cedillo helps families sign up for Medicaid/CHIP and SNAP and says she’s already seen increased fear of enrolling among immigrants.

Monday, December 10 is the last day to leave public comment on a proposed public charge rule that’s currently listed in the federal register.

The proposed public charge rule would make it harder for legal immigrants to get a visa if they use, or are deemed likely to use, an expanded list of public benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers.

The rule would also mean immigration officers could favor wealthier visa applicants by factoring in income, so applicants making 250% above the Federal Poverty Guidelines would have that count strongly in their favor.

Nearly 200,000 people have made public comment both for and against the proposed rule.

Local immigrant advocacy groups and community health experts oppose the rule, saying it could change the face of who is granted visas in the United States and could also discourage immigrant families from accessing public benefits like food stamps (SNAP), Medicaid/CHIP and WIC.

The Department of Homeland Security said the rule ensures people who come here are self-sufficient.

"Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially," said Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, in a statement.

Meanwhile, some within Greater Houston's health care community say one impact of the new rule is that it will make the city sicker.

That's why the City of Houston's Health Department, and other local health organizations, are voicing opposition to new rule. Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse co-authored a letter against it to the Department of Homeland Security.

"If you put fear into people so that they won't even take care with the assets that we have available the situation's just going to get much worse," said Persse.

According to him, the immigrant community has limited access to health care as it is.

"There's going to be a human price to be paid and there's going to be a financial price to be paid, so it's a lose-lose proposition," said Persse.

He argues the new rule will have a domino effect — fewer people will get preventative care, which means more will depend on more expensive emergency care. On top of that, Persse said fewer people will get vaccinated and more kids will go malnourished, all factors that will make the city sicker.

But not everybody agrees.

Matthew O'Brien is director of research at FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) and called this argument against the public charge rule "alarmist".

"If you have people that are coming here and they're getting the bulk of their income, housing, medical costs and other costs through social programs that taxpayers are funding, there's no way... unless we have some sort of outbreak of disease of the type that we haven't seen since the late 19th century in the United States, you're not going to have those costs offset the costs that are being born by the American taxpayer in order to provide these benefits in the first place," said O'Brien.