immigration

New York Vows to Fight New Trump Green Card Benefits Policy

State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) speaks at an immigrant rights rally in Jackson Heights, June 24, 2019.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens) speaks at an immigrant rights rally in Jackson Heights, June 24, 2019. Photo: Savannah Jacobson /THE CITY

Getting treated at the city’s public hospitals won’t necessarily be held against green card seekers, health officials said Monday amid news of a new Trump administration rule penalizing immigrants who legally receive government aid.

Applications for permanent legal status can be rejected by immigration officials if immigrants use public benefits, such as food stamps or government-subsidized housing, according to the so-called “public charge” rule published in the Federal Register Monday.

The change, due to start Oct. 15, could affect hundreds of thousands of immigrants in New York City, officials say.

But seeking care at NYC Health + Hospitals facilities doesn’t have to cause immigrants vying for a green card to be identified as a public charge. That’s because the services could be paid for by the city rather than by the federal government, via Medicaid, the head of the city’s public hospital system told THE CITY Monday.

“In a world where there are epidemics of tuberculosis, influenza, potentially unknown pathogens, we always want people — all people — to feel they can come forward when they’re sick or have issues,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, the president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospital.

Taking advantage of NYC Care — the $100 million program for uninsured city residents who cannot afford private insurance or are ineligible for Medicaid — would not be a public charge trigger either, according to city health officials.

The new Department of Homeland Security rule requires that immigrants living in the country legally “do not depend on public resources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own capabilities, as well as the resources of family members, sponsors, and private organizations.”

Federal officials also would assess an applicant’s age, health, financial assets and education, acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli told Fox News, touting the controversial changes as a push for “self-sufficiency.”

People who are unable to work or go to school because of a medical condition could be penalized, under the new rule. Ditto for people who don’t have health insurance or can’t afford their medical bills.

New York to Sue Trump (Again)

Meanwhile, New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office plans to file a lawsuit over the new policy.

“Under this rule, children will go hungry; families will go without medical care,” James said in a statement. “I am committed to defending all of New York’s communities, which is why I intend to sue the Trump administration over this egregious rule.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio also plans a legal challenge, said Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesperson. “We will have more to say on that soon,” he added.

Donald Trump speaks at the New York GOP gala in Midtown, April 14, 2016.
Donald Trump speaks at the New York GOP gala in Midtown, on April 14, 2016. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Up to 400,000 immigrants residing in New York City could be deemed inadmissible or ineligible for an immigration status adjustment under the stricter rule, according to a December report from the city’s Department of Social Services, Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs and the Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity.

The new rule would significantly increase the poverty rate for immigrant populations in New York City and have a “chilling effect” on the city’s economy through diminished spending, lower business revenue or losses in job creations, the report found.

Noncitizens who are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — also known as food stamps —  already have been forgoing their benefits, according to a June analysis from the Department of Social Services and Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs.

In the last two years, noncitizens who are eligible for SNAP have either withdrawn or opted not to enroll at higher rates than U.S. citizens in the five boroughs, according to the report.

The December report also predicted the new DHS rule would reduce use of housing assistance programs like Section 8 and public housing — sparking “increases in unstable housing, overcrowding, and shelter use, and ultimately increase rates of homelessness.”

The New York City Housing Authority did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

‘An Attack on Immigrants’

Katz, the hospital system’s chief, warned that the Trump administration’s policy change will affect an even bigger pool of people than the rule officially encompasses because “it’s perceived as an attack on immigrants.”

“I think the people who are most likely to be hurt by this won’t even be people who will be affected by the actual rule, but they’ll be affected by the perceptions of this rule,”he added.

The city estimates that roughly 304,000 low- and middle-income New Yorkers who are citizens or green card holders could be discouraged from using public benefits “due to confusion and fear,” particularly if they live with someone who isn’t a citizen, according to the December report. 

Rebecca Telzak, the director of health programs at Make the Road New York, an immigration advocacy group, advised that individuals who are seeking to adjust their immigration to discuss their case with lawyers.

“If you are in the process of applying for a green card, we would suggest you speak with an advocate or an immigration attorney to get a consult to then have a better sense of how all the many factors could potentially affect you,” she said.

William Lopez, a University of Michigan researcher who specializes in the public health impact of immigration policy, said that immigrant families could end up missing out on much-needed benefits due to deportation fears.

“It has a chilling effect,” said Lopez. “It affects all sorts of behaviors and a lot of these are health behaviors.”

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