LGBT Immigrants Threatened by Changes in “Public Charge” Rules


The federal government wants to make it tougher for documented immigrants—including those who are LGBT—to obtain permanent residence or a visa if they use Medicaid, food stamps, or other public assistance.

The proposed change to what is known as the “public charge” rule by the Department of Homeland Security is being seen as a way to scare immigrant families from seeking access to health care, nutrition, and housing programs. It aims to radically lower the historical standard for determining whether someone is “likely to become a public charge.”

If implemented, any person who seeks or uses a wide range of health and human services programs 一 from housing assistance to health coverage including treatment for HIV/AIDS to anti-hunger and anti-poverty benefits 一 would face barriers to being admitted into the U.S. or when applying for lawful permanent residency.

Under the current policy, only cash “welfare” assistance for income maintenance and government funded long-term care received or relied upon by an applicant can be taken into consideration in the “public charge” test. The proposed rule would alter the test dramatically, abandoning the enduring meaning of a public charge as a person who depends on the government for subsistence.

“Make no mistake, the proposed rule is aimed at attacking legal immigration by crafting what is essentially a wealth test,” said Maria Melo, the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s policy and operations manager. “If we don’t stop this new measure, immigration officers would be required to deny green cards to otherwise eligible applicants based on the mere prediction that they ‘might’ turn to programs like Medicaid at any time in the future.”

There are 637,000 LGBT-identified adults among the legal immigrant population in the U.S. and an estimated 24,700 non-citizens who are part of a same-sex couple with a U.S. citizen, according to estimates by the Williams Institute.

The proposed policy began a 60-day public comment period last week, but the prospect of such a change has already created a chilling effect among immigrants and their children.

For example, a growing number of LGBT organizations that provide services to the community are seeing instances of LGBT immigrants not showing up for health care appointments or expressing fear about accessing HIV treatment and care and other vital services, according to Melo.

“This discriminates against immigrants with pre-existing health conditions like HIV who do not possess the sizable amount of wealth required to maintain their health using private funds,” she said. “If the administration gets its way, the American dream will be out of reach for thousands of LGBT people and their families.”

The proposed rule change calls for taking an immigrant’s disability status, including HIV status, into consideration when determining whether the applicant has a medical condition that could affect their ability to work, attend school, care for themselves, or require expensive care or institutionalization.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti called the proposed change a public disgrace at a press conference (pictured above) held at Grand Park on October 11.

“America is about giving everyone a chance to lift themselves up, take care of their families, and chase their dreams—and our government should never be in the business of punishing people who may need a little help making sure their kids are safe, fed and have a roof over their heads,” Garcetti said. “Creating fear and targeting legal immigrants who follow the rules does nothing to increase our security or strengthen our economy.”

Garcetti said the administration of President Trump “is attacking all of us who don’t fit into its vision of who belongs here when, in fact, we all belong here.”

“The LGBT community, which is filled with immigrants from around the world, might think that they can no longer apply for benefits,” Garcetti said after the press conference. “We’re talking about folks who are already here legally potentially having to choose whether their children get food assistance or whether to apply for health care. We know that folks will still stay here because they are here legally. They will just be staying here poor, maybe some of them becoming homeless, some of them dying in our hospitals or being treated in our emergency rooms.”

The public is being encouraged to speak out against the proposal by posting a comment with specific details and anecdotes via the website

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