While the immigration status of millions in our country continues to be a topic of debate, this much we know is true:
Immigrants are our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates and our family members.
However, the proposed rule change to the definition of “public charge” threatens their health and well-being as it will drastically increase the scope of this concept.
The expressed legislative intent of this policy is to limit government spending on immigrants who might be totally reliant on the government for their day-to-day needs for an extended or indefinite amount of time.
The proposal, however, expands this language to include many other kinds of non-cash subsidies such as Medicaid and programs that aid with nutrition, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Women, Infants and Children program, and housing subsidies.
If immigrants have applied for or received these benefits for themselves – or, in some cases, for their U.S.-born citizen children – it would prohibit them from receiving permanent resident status.
Not only is the scope of this potential rule change huge, it completely warps the intent of the original policy.
Instead of identifying a relatively small population that would wholly rely on the government for the rest of their lives, it creates a barrier to immigrants receiving any assistance whatsoever out of fear of deportation.
This includes assistance for children who are U.S. citizens.
There has already been a chilling effect on immigrant health out of fear and confusion about the proposed changes, and there are many reports of families telling pediatricians they are not renewing benefits or are skipping pediatric well-child visits out of fear of the repercussions.
One in four children in the U.S., about 18.4 million, who live in immigrant families (16 million of them born in the U.S.) would be affected by this change.
This is a frightening number of children who may be without access to health care or healthy nutrition assistance.
We know that children who receive health insurance through Medicaid and CHIP miss fewer days of school to illness or injury, do better in school, and are more likely to graduate high school and attend college.
Loss of that coverage may lead to high long-term educational and societal costs. Children of immigrant families ultimately contribute to the workforce, pay taxes and spend less in health care dollars.
If we want our communities to thrive, all families must feel safe to access the care and services they need to succeed.
As a pediatrician, I have the honor of caring for many graduating seniors who were raised in immigrant families as they prepare to attend our state's best schools as the first in their families to go to college.
They are an example of the success of assistance programs.
I urge the administration to immediately rescind its proposed rule change, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” as it will negatively affect our community, our state, and the families and children for whom we as pediatricians care.
Dr. Tony GiaQuinta, a Fort Wayne pediatrician, is president of the Indiana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.