Health care advocates celebrate the halt to public charge rule; remain vigilant as Trump Administration imposes new restrictions

October 15, 2019 /

Health care advocates gathered Tuesday morning in front of Clinica Sierra Vista on Niles Street to celebrate the latest news to the new public charge rule.

The new rule, which was set to go into effect Tuesday, would have caused 26 million people and their families to lack access to health care, according to advocates; however a U.S. federal judge in New York on Friday temporarily blocked the Trump administration’s public charge rule that would deny residency to immigrants deemed likely to require government assistance, Reuters reports.

“The administration tried to undermine our access to health care with a complex immigration rule that would discourage families from fully participating in benefits they are eligible,” said Eduardo Ramirez Castro, a project director at the sustainable rural communities project for the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation.

Advocates are calling the injunction a victory for immigrant families seeking permanent resident status. Nearly 260,000 public comments were submitted to the Department of Homeland Security regarding the proposed changes to the rule.

Prior to the injunction, the Trump Administration changed the public charge rule to include more public benefits — such as nutrition assistance programs, non-emergency Medicaid, and housing assistance — when determining if an individual is considered a “public charge.”

Judge George Daniels of the Southern District of New York blocked the rule nationwide, calling it “repugnant to the American Dream.” Daniels said the government did not provide “any reasonable explanation” for why the definition of public charge needed to be changed, according to Reuters.

Dr. Carol Stewart, a member of Clinica Sierra Vista’s Rio Bravo Family Medicine Residency Program spoke of the impact the proposed public charge rule has had on her patients. The rule has instilled fear in community members, according to Stewart.

Data from a 2018 survey among California providers estimated the public charge rule was already instilling fear in 67 percent of parents.

Stewart has patients who have expressed fear that the implications of the public charge rule will go beyond the green card applications, which has caused some residents to not apply for services they are entitled to. Because they didn’t apply for the services, Stewart said some patients are avoiding their doctor visits and medications, leading to severe medical cases.

“We stand with our doctors, nurses, staff and patients to say ‘no,'” Stewart said. “No to public charge and its ugly baggage. No to treating our patients as pawns in a political chess game. No to denying access to basic medical services due to immigration status. No to scaring our patients into declining services out of fear. No to separating family members because one has a green piece of paper and one doesn’t.”

Although she see the injunction as a victory, she remains skeptical.

“The injunction is great, but I’m worried is a stop gap,” she said. “We have to remain vigilant. Health care is a basic human right.”

Advocates say there is still more work to be done. The Trump Administration is preparing to reject visa applicants from immigrants who cannot afford to cover health care costs. This rule, set to go into effect Nov. 3, is operating in foreign consulates, essentially making it a lot more difficult for families to obtain a green card, according to Ramirez Castro.

Ramirez Castro said, “Any threat to healthcare…is a threat to our county safety.”

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez

Elizabeth Sanchez is the program associate for South Kern Sol. She can be reached at elizabeth@southkernsol.org.