Update on "Public Charge" from Foundation leadership

Carolyn Wang Kong Raymond Baxter, Ph.D. group of people holding hands

Earlier this year, a divided United States Supreme Court struck down a lower court’s ruling that delayed the Trump Administration’s proposed change to the so-called “public charge” rule, clearing the way for the rule to take effect. Soon after, the US Census and Immigration Service confirmed an implementation date for the revised rule: February 24, 2020. The rule threatens both immediate and lasting negative effects on the health and well-being of communities across our state. For the Foundation, our partners, and anyone fighting for a healthier, more inclusive California, this is a date we hoped never to see.

The rule will regulate the future status of immigrants who are deemed likely to use public benefits. By issuing the new rule, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is redefining a “public charge” – previously a person who is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence” – as a person who is likely to “receive one or more public benefit” within any 36-month period. The rule also expands the list of benefits that can affect someone’s future status.

For California’s immigrant communities, however, the rule is the latest in a series of divisive attacks. Public opinion research shows that it will discourage immigrant residents from accessing services for which they are legally eligible: preventive health services, CalFresh nutrition assistance, immunization services, and reduced-price school meals – programs and services that benefit entire communities. In a state where half of our children have at least one immigrant parent, it’s clear that the danger of widespread disenrollment from public benefits extends far beyond the rule’s stated scope.

In October of last year, we wrote that the rule – then temporarily blocked – represents an assault on our values, a test of our communities’ resilience, and a significant setback to the California we’ve been aspiring towards for decades – one that is inclusive, diverse, supportive, and one that engenders opportunity for all. The new rule strikes at the heart of that vision for our shared future. It perpetuates and accelerates a climate of fear, division, and confusion. In short, it weakens the bonds of our communities and threatens immediate and lasting negative health consequences across California.

More disheartening still is the fact that these outcomes are not unfortunate side effects of a necessary shift in policy. Let’s be clear: the divisive result is the point.

And yet, our communities are resilient, and they have been preparing for this threat. This is a crucial time to reinforce the pillars upon which our immigrant communities rely for support. In Q4 of 2019, we announced flexible, multi-year funding to organizations serving these communities – so that they can provide immediate support to immigrant families and chart a future course to strengthen and reinforce their communities beyond the crisis they now face.

There is good reason for many of us to feel worried and afraid in this moment. But it’s precisely in moments like this when it’s most crucial to reaffirm that we’re all in this together.

There’s a broad coalition of partners working to preserve progress and build resilience in California’s immigrant communities. For two years, we’ve been inspired by your activism and outspoken opposition to this rule. Now, that same energy is urgently needed in response to it. Whether addressing immediate, short-term needs, mitigating long-term effects, or helping get the word out about what the rule means (and what it doesn’t), if you want to help, there’s a role for you to play. For more information on the rule, including research, analysis, and ways to take action, visit the Protecting Immigrant Families project. 

The public charge rule is no longer theoretical. It’s real, and it’ll soon to be here. Data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Urban Institute prove the chilling effect is already happening. There is good reason for many of us to feel worried and afraid in this moment. But we must also remember that California is a special place because of its incredible diversity, not in spite of it. So, it’s precisely in moments like this when it’s most crucial to reaffirm that we’re all in this together. We are a state of immigrants – whether that means our families, our colleagues, or our neighbors. When we work together, there’s no crisis we can’t overcome. 

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