Advocates Try To Help Migrants Navigate Trump Rules Advocacy groups are trying to educate immigrants about the Trump administration's rule change that says legal immigrants will be less likely to be able to stay in the U.S. if they use public benefits.
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Advocates Try To Help Migrants Navigate Trump Rules

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Advocates Try To Help Migrants Navigate Trump Rules

Advocates Try To Help Migrants Navigate Trump Rules

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is widespread confusion over a new public charge rule that affects immigrants. It's a Trump administration change that is expected to go into effect next Tuesday. But multiple groups are in court trying to stop that from happening. Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.

UNIDENTIFIED CASA DE MARYLAND MEMBER: (Speaking Spanish).

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Casa de Maryland in Baltimore is a nonprofit group that offers immigrants programs like this one, where teens get help after school with their homework and get a snack.

UNIDENTIFIED CASA DE MARYLAND MEMBER: (Speaking Spanish).

FESSLER: The group also helps immigrants with job training and guides them through the maze of legal requirements for citizenship. Their latest challenge is figuring out how the new public charge rule will work. It's supposed to ensure that those getting green cards will be self-sufficient and not rely on government aid. One factor will be whether the immigrant already uses public benefits.

MONICA CAMACHO-PEREZ: You never know with this government. Everything can be used against you.

FESSLER: Monica Camacho-Perez is a Casa member and a plaintiff in a suit challenging the new rule. The 25-year-old Baltimore resident was brought into the country illegally as a child. She's what's known as a DACA recipient, and she's worried and confused how the public charge rule might affect her ability to someday become a citizen. She'd like to go to college full-time.

CAMACHO-PEREZ: But I can't because if I take out a loan, that's going to be used against me in the future.

FESSLER: In fact, under the new rule, student loans aren't supposed to be held against someone applying for a green card. But such misunderstandings are widespread. Camacho has relatives who've stopped getting food stamps for their children who are U.S. citizens even though, under the rule, those benefits wouldn't be held against them. George Escobar, who oversees Casa's programs and services, says about a quarter of their members have asked whether they should drop out of safety net programs just to be safe. He tries to dissuade them from doing so.

GEORGE ESCOBAR: The number of people that are actually being impacted by the public charge rule is actually very limited, right? But the chilling impact is what's much more concerning.

FESSLER: There are some estimates that, nationwide, millions of people aren't getting nutrition and health assistance for their families because they're so worried, when in reality, so few immigrants are eligible for safety net programs covered by the rule that the number of those who would be affected is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. It's a message Casa and other advocates are eager to get out.

ESCOBAR: What we're trying to do with our community right now, and what we've done, is provide culturally proficient educational material, engage people. Use every opportunity we can to engage people and educate them about what the public charge rule is and what it is not.

SONYA SCHWARTZ: I think the first thing that's really helpful for people to know is the public charge test does not apply to everyone.

FESSLER: Sonia Schwartz is an attorney with the National Immigration Law Center. She notes that refugees, asylees and most current green-cardholders are excluded from the rule. Also the list of benefits taken into account is limited to food stamps, housing subsidies and cash assistance.

SCHWARTZ: And then Medicaid is also on the list, but there are so many exceptions about Medicaid that it doesn't affect a lot of people. So kids' use of Medicaid doesn't count. Use of Medicaid in schools doesn't count. Emergency Medicaid doesn't count.

FESSLER: School nutrition programs, child care and Medicare also don't count. Schwartz says the real concern should be all the other new things immigration officials can weigh when deciding if someone might become a public charge, such as whether they earn enough money or can speak English, meaning use of public benefits could be the least of their worries if the new rule goes into effect. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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