Latino children in California (Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock)
Significant numbers of immigrants, in the United States legally and
illegally, are reportedly leaving federal assistance programs out of
fear it could hurt their chances of obtaining permanent legal status.
reports that 18 states have noticed a decline of up to 20 percent in
the number of people applying for the WIC federal nutritional program
for pregnant women and infants.
The decline has been attributed not just to a robust economy, but a
rumored federal rule change by the Trump administration regarding
eligibility to obtain green cards based on prior use of government
“Under a provision known as public charge, U.S. immigration law has
for more than a century allowed officials to reject admission to the
country on the grounds that potential immigrants or visitors might
become overly reliant on the government,” according to Politico. “But
until now, officials have looked narrowly at whether someone would need
cash benefits such as welfare or long-term institutional care.”
The news outlet claimed there is a move within the Trump
administration to include a larger array of services such as programs
like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or commonly known
as food stamps), Head Start, Medicaid and WIC.
WIC, first launched in 1974, has traditionally been for the most part immigration status-blind regarding eligibility.
When Trump took office, there were 7.4 million women and children enrolled in WIC. As of May, the most recent data available, the number had dropped to 6.8 million.
Similarly, there were 42.7 million enrolled in SNAP in Jan. 2017, which has declined to 39.3 million as of May, or a difference of 3.4 million.
The evidence the Politico piece offers that part of the decline is
due to the possible Trump administration rule change is anecdotal. Any
change to federal regulations regarding the programs would have to go
through a public comment period before being adopted, and would likely
be challenged in court before taking effect, meaning a final
determination could take several months or years.
“It’s a stealth regulation,” said Kathleen Campbell Walker, an
immigration attorney at Dickinson Wright in El Paso, Texas regarding the
possible change to WIC. “It doesn’t really exist, but it’s being
Jennifer Mejias-Martinez, who works with the WIC program in Topeka,
Kansas, recalled receiving a panicked call from an immigrant family
wanting to unenroll after hearing a report on Univision that receiving
government benefits could hurt their chances in immigration proceedings.
“They were very, very scared,” Mejias-Martinez said. She tried to
reassure them that the policy had not changed, but they dropped from WIC
“It made me very sad, and quite frankly upset,” she said.
A WIC administering agency in Longview, Texas reported losing an
estimated 75 to 90 participants per month to public charge fears,
according to Politico.
The Trump administration has argued that it is not trying to alter immigration law, but clarify and enforce existing statutes.
“The goal is not to reduce immigration or in some diabolical fashion
shut the door on people, family-based immigration, anything like that,”
said Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration
Services, at the National Press Club earlier this month.
The Department of Agriculture, which oversees WIC, is conducting
multiple studies looking into why eligible families are not
participating in, or choosing to drop their enrollment from, the
“The USDA is committed to the health and well-being of all WIC
eligible mothers, infants and children and supports families seeking
assistance,” the agency said.