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Immigrants React As Public Charge Rule Goes Into Effect

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

New Trump administration rules take effect today that make it harder for poor immigrants to come to America and get residency. Now, the rules do not apply to all immigrants. Those who have green cards are not affected, for example, but immigrant advocates worry about the confusion this is causing. Some are holding teach-ins to educate their communities. From member station WBUR, Shannon Dooling has this story.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I just want to thank everyone for being here today for this really important conversation.

SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: Dozens of immigration attorneys, advocates and service providers filled a conference room in Boston's City Hall today. They're here to learn about the new rules for the so-called public charge test, which determines whether immigrants are likely to become a financial burden on the U.S. government.

The Trump administration is making that test harder to pass. For instance, immigrants abroad who are likely to get food stamps or other public benefits once they get to the U.S. could be denied visas, and visa holders already here could be denied green cards if the test shows they are likely to get those benefits.

MARION DAVIS: There is a very, very serious threat to immigrants in our country today, and it is that basically overnight, eligibility for green cards has been dramatically reduced. What the public charge rule does is it imposes a wealth test or an income potential test on people who want to get green cards.

DOOLING: Marion Davis is with the Massachusetts Immigrant, Refugee and Advocacy Coalition (ph), which helped organize today's teach-in. She and the advocates say the new rule amounts to an unfair wealth test that excludes immigrants from poorer countries. A person's income is also weighed more heavily in this new process.

But they're also worried that people will think the new rule is more sweeping than it actually is. Maria Gonzalez Albuixech works with Health Care for All in Massachusetts.

MARIA GONZALEZ ALBUIXECH: At the end of the day, people are deciding to, you know, not use the services they're entitled to because they're afraid that that's going to impact their ability to adjust their immigration status.

DOOLING: One of the biggest fears is that parents will pull their kids out of public benefit programs out of fear that it could hurt the family's immigration status. Albuixech says in less than a month, her organization has fielded nearly 100 calls from people concerned and confused, asking if they should cancel school lunches for their kids and forgo government-funded prenatal care. But those benefits are not covered by the rule. Advocates are also worried about millions of children of immigrants who get health care through Medicaid, but those children are exempt as well.

Yet another fear, Albuixech says, is that the new rule will deter green card holders from ever applying for citizenship.

GONZALEZ ALBUIXECH: The biggest problem right now is people who already have a green card thinking that that's going to impact their citizenship. We hear that story all the time, and that is incorrect.

DOOLING: The Trump administration says it's simply insuring immigrants to the U.S. become self-sufficient. The controversial rule has been challenged in court, a fight that is ongoing. The Supreme Court, however, said the new rule can take effect while lawsuits play out in lower courts.

For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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