HARTFORD, CT— An estimated 200,000 Connecticut residents who have legally been in the country could lose their benefits and their path to citizenship under a new Trump administration rule.
The new rule, which is being challenged in federal court by Connecticut, New York and Vermont, would allow officials to deny a change in immigration status to any individual who has received public assistance, such as food stamps, Medicaid or even housing assistance, in the last three years. Previously the rule only applied to individuals who depended on cash assistance or government-funded long-term institutional care.
“If you have a green card and you’ve done everything right and you just needed a little bit of help with food or housing or just some healthcare assistance, if you got that assistance for a 12-month period you could lose your ability to be a green-card holder, a lawful permanent resident, to being a citizen of this of this country,” Attorney General William Tong said.
The Connecticut lawsuit, one of 60 challenging the rule, was filed Tuesday in the Southern District of New York.
The Trump administration says it is taking action to help ensure that non-citizens in this country are self-sufficient and not a strain on public resources.
But Tong said the rule will have a detrimental impact on Connecticut’s economy.
Tong said it would impair the ability of these legal immigrants to function because they will not be able to afford to put food on the table or find housing or access healthcare services. Instead, they will forgo these services in order to gain citizenship and avoid possible deportation due to their socio-economic status.
“We’re talking about the core of Connecticut’s economy and the core of Connecticut’s working people,” Tong said.
He added that the ”net economic damage to the state is going to be profound.”
The amount of Medicaid money the state receives will be reduced and federal funds for school lunches for all children could be reduced if immigrants decide to drop out of these government-sponsored assistance programs.
Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said not only has Trump declared war on people who are living in poverty, but he’s also declared a war on immigrants.
“Gov. Lamont and I are in opposition to this discrimination, to this cruelty, to this racism, to this vilification of immigrants,” Bysiewicz said.
Department of Social Services Interim Commissioner Deidre Gifford said the rule will lead to eligible and needy families, including those with children who are U.S. citizens, going without food, housing and medical services.
“It’s a particularly cruel forrm of discrimination against legal immigrants of lesser means,” Gifford said.
Gifford said that Medicaid, food stamps, and temporary cash assistance programs already have “rigid restrictions,” against non-citizen participation. In order to receive any benefits like food stamps or Medicaid, an immigrant must legally have been in the country for five years.
She said parents will avoid public benefits out of “understandable fear and confusion” and their children will lose access to free and reduced-price lunches.
“Hunger will not simply disappear. Illness will not cure itself,” Gifford said. “This rule will force legal residents, legal immigrant families to endure unnecessary harm during their pursuit of citizenship.”
Nichelle Mullins, president and CEO of Charter Oak Health Center, said they already receive phone calls from patients asking whether they will report their immigration status if they come into the center for medical services.
She said they’ve seen a 6% increase in patients paying cash for services instead of using insurance.
Jason Jakubowski, president and CEO of Foodshare, said his organization will not be able to feed all the people who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.
“Foodshare nor any other food bank in America has the food to be able to cover what people would lose from not having access to SNAP,” Jakubowski said.
Chris George, executive director of IRIS, a refugee resettlement agency, said he’s learned a lot over his 14 years at the agency about why people come to this country.
“They don’t come for food stamps or healthcare or housing assistance,” George said. “They come for all the right reasons: safety, freedoms, for our democracy. They come to work hard.”
But every now and then, he said, they may need a little extra help.
“And to put them in that horrible position between food, healthcare and shelter and their immigration status a year or two down the road is cruel and un-American,” George added.
The Urban Institute reported in May that over 20% of immigrants surveyed reported they did not participate in a non-cash government benefit program in 2018 for fear of risking a future green card.
This is around the 31st lawsuit Tong has filed against the Trump administration and its agencies since he was elected in 2018.