RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're going to hear more now about the Trump administration's new rule restricting legal immigration. With the change, legal immigrants who use public benefits, like food stamps or Medicaid, will be less likely to get approval to stay in this country permanently. The government is broadening the criteria in determining who's likely to become a, quote, "public charge," someone who will be largely dependent on government services. And there are already signs that immigrants and even American-born children may be forgoing help they're legally entitled to so they don't lose their status.
We're joined now by Cheasty Anderson. She's with the Children's Defense Fund and works directly with immigrant families in Texas. She joins us on the line from Austin. Thanks so much for being with us.
CHEASTY ANDERSON: My pleasure.
MARTIN: This policy change has been in the works for months now. It hasn't gone into effect yet. That happens October 15. But how have you seen it affecting immigrant families in your - that your organization works with?
ANDERSON: Yeah. As you've said, this has been in the works for well over a year at this point. The first leaked drafts were leaked in early 2017. And we've been seeing a steady increase in the amount of fear that immigrant communities experience here in Texas, for sure, with increased disenrollment and decreased enrollment in programs like Medicaid, SNAP and a variety of other programs that are not covered under this new public charge regulation. But there's insufficient information, and people are just withdrawing even their citizen children from programs that they need.
MARTIN: So even children who are American citizens because they were born here, parents are concerned, and so they're not getting health care for them because they're afraid that they could, as a family, be deported?
ANDERSON: That's correct. Here in Texas, 1 in 4 children has at least one parent who is a noncitizen. That's 1.6 million children. So that's an enormous percentage of our population that we're worried about a decrease. You know, Texas already has an incredibly high uninsured rate, the highest child uninsured rate in the country. And we're only going to see that climb.
MARTIN: We reached out to a mother in Austin, Texas, an immigrant. Her two kids, though, are U.S. citizens.
MARTIN: Her name is Marlene. She asked us that we not use her last name because of concern about her immigration status. She works. Her husband works. But they have used some public benefits to get by, including Medicaid, for one of her kids, who's disabled. But now because she's afraid, she's stopped using food stamps, as well. Here's part of what she told us.
MARLENE: (Through interpreter) For me, the most important thing is the health of my kids. I just keep praying they don't take away Medicaid because I've already had to give up the food. To be honest, I feel terrible. I feel powerless.
MARTIN: We should note that Texas has one of the highest rates of participation in the food stamp program, or SNAP. But I wonder, what is your message? How are you counseling people like Marlene?
ANDERSON: Well, I know that these - that the families who are worried feel like they're in an impossible situation. They're worried if they enroll that they'll end up, you know, losing their ability to stay in this country, potential family separation. This is a scary moment, and it's understandable that people react in ways to protect themselves. And in this case, protecting themselves feels like withdrawing from programs. But we really urge families to stay enrolled. This, the actual impact is a very limited number of people that the rule precisely applies to, those legal immigrants who are seeking to adjust their status. Whether or not your children are enrolled in programs, whether you're a legal immigrant or not, has absolutely no impact through the public charge rule on your ability to stay in this country.
MARTIN: We had Ken Cuccinelli on our program earlier this week. He's acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. And I want to play a clip of that interview again. Here's his take on "The New Colossus," the Emma Lazarus poem at the Statue of Liberty.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
KEN CUCCINELLI: Give me your tired and your poor, who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge.
MARTIN: Does he have a point? Is the U.S. government entitled to require that immigrants to this country not be a burden on the state, in his characterization of it?
ANDERSON: I think that his characterization is disingenuous. In the first place, these programs are not - this is not a burden on the state. These are programs that are designed to lift and support families in times of need so that they are anti-poverty measures, and they are extremely successful anti-poverty measures. Abundant data indicates that people who use these programs go on to thrive more than they would have otherwise.
And second, I say disingenuous because even if they do not use the programs, there's also something called a wealth test in the rule where if they have low income, they simply don't - it's a hard strike against their application. So if they don't use any of these programs and quote-unquote, "stand on his own two feet," you're still - they're still saying if you don't earn above the U.S. median income, you're not welcome here.
MARTIN: Cheasty Anderson is a senior policy associate at the Children's Defense Fund, based in Texas. Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
ANDERSON: Thank you.
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