Immigrant groups weigh in on Supreme Court’s public charge ruling

photo of immigrant mother holding sick baby
Low-cost health clinics that treat uninsured people are expected to see an influx of patients because of changes to the "public charge" rule. Many parents are opting out of Medicaid assistance for their children — even though benefits received by those under 21 are not considered part of the public charge. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
photo of immigrant mother holding sick baby
Low-cost health clinics that treat uninsured people are expected to see an influx of patients because of changes to the “public charge” rule. Many parents are opting out of Medicaid assistance for their children — even though benefits received by those under 21 are not considered part of the public charge. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Nevada immigrant groups warn of the consequences from the U.S. Supreme Court allowing the Trump administration to deny resident status for immigrants who rely on public assistance like Medicaid or housing subsidies.

According to the new interpretation of the public charge rule, immigrants applying for green cards are prohibited from using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, housing vouchers, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income. 

While the rule doesn’t apply to those with Temporary Protected Status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients, victim-based visa holders or people who are seeking or have been granted political asylum, confusion around the law has already had a chilling effect on the entire immigrant community.

Denise Tanata, the executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, said because of structural and cultural barriers to economic security “children in immigrant families are more likely to be living in low-income households than children in U.S.-born families.”

“In Nevada, 37 percent of children lived in immigrant families in 2016,” she said. “More specifically, 48 percent of Nevada’s children in immigrant families lived in low-income families below 200 percent of the poverty threshold. The public charge rule would further exacerbate this disparity by negatively impacting the ability of low-income, immigrant families to live healthy, productive lives. The rule will directly harm children and adults in immigrant families as families choose not to access crucial benefit programs out of fear and confusion.”

“This will make some immigrant parents opt out of assistance like free school lunch,” said Leo Murrieta, executive director for Make the Road Nevada. “The impact that this ruling will have goes beyond the scope of the actual rule, but also the turmoil within the immigrant community that it will cause. We need to support them, not deny them life-sustaining support such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing assistance.” 

The long-standing interpretation of the law only focused on those receiving cash aid to supplement income or long-term medical aid. The new interpretation expanded the types of public assistance received for more than 12 months in any 36-month period.

Changes to the public charge rule were slated to go into effect Oct. 15, but legal challenges in federal courts help up implementation. 

Attorneys General from 14 states, including Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, had filed a lawsuit requesting a preliminary injunction to stop the federal government from implementing the rule while a lawsuit by their states moves forward.

The Supreme Court voted 5-4 Monday to allow the administration’s guidelines to move forward.

Speaking with immigrant and child advocacy groups in September, Ford said the public charge rule going into effect could result in “a shift in costs to the state and private organizations.”

“My office has made a point of challenging changes to the public charge rule that essentially makes legal immigrants choose between maintaining their legal status and receiving basic assistance like food stamps, healthcare and housing,” Ford said in a statement Tuesday. “While I’m disappointed by the Supreme Court’s most recent order, my office fully intends to continue to protect Nevada families from this and future attacks by the Trump Administration.”

Mi Familia Vota, a national civic Latino and immigrant engagement organization, called the latest ruling an attack on working-class families. “Allowing the government to say who can and cannot become a citizen based on an expectation that they may use public assistance is not only un-American but will hurt millions of immigrants and 12 million U.S. citizen family members, nearly two-thirds of them with children,” said Hector Sanchez, the executive director and CEO of Mi Familia Vota. “Make no mistake, this will hurt American families, complicating the lives of millions needlessly.”

Cecia Alvarado, the Nevada director of Mi Familia Vota, said groups plan to fight the ruling by turning out the vote in November. 

“In addition to registering eligible voters, the community will hold this administration accountable at the polls in November,” she said.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.