1. Florida Politics
  2. /
  3. The Buzz

How Trump’s new rule on immigration affects Florida

The new rule, which takes effect on Oct. 15, favors wealthier immigrants seeking permanent status and puts the poor at a disadvantage, analysts and scholars say.
Published Aug. 13
Updated Aug. 13

Green cards and visas will soon be denied to low-income immigrants who get — or will one day need — public assistance benefits like food stamps, housing vouchers, Supplemental Social Security Income and Medicaid, despite their having entered the U.S. legally, President Donald Trump’s administration announced Monday.

The government’s move to redefine and expand its definition of a “public charge”— someone who is considered to be primarily dependent on the government and a financial burden to the U.S. — is one of the administration’s most aggressive strides yet to limit legal immigration.

RELATED STORY: All children have been moved from Homestead detention center. They’re not coming back.

The new rule, which takes effect on Oct. 15, favors wealthier immigrants seeking permanent status and puts the poor at a disadvantage, analysts and scholars say. People who are subject to the “public charge” determination process are applicants seeking a green card or a visa, not citizenship.

Though the process has always weighed factors such as income, education, health status and skills, under the new rule U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will also consider whether applicants have received public assistance for more than a year within the previous three years in order to determine if the applicant can gain legal status.

If the government foresees a new applicant one day needing government assistance in order to get by, the application will be denied, according to the new rule.

“What the rule does is if you’re a family that’s low-income, it starts you off at a huge disadvantage,” said Anne Swerlick of the Florida Policy Institute. “It discriminates against immigrant families who are of lower income and makes it extremely difficult for people applying for green cards and various types of visas. This fundamentally changes the U.S.’s approach to immigration, making family income and potential use of health care, nutrition or housing programs a central consideration in whether or not to offer people an opportunity to make their lives in this country.”

Federal officials said the rule will “better ensure that aliens seeking to enter and remain in the United States — either temporarily or permanently — are self-sufficient and rely on their own capabilities and the resources of family members, sponsors, and private organizations rather than on public resources.”

Asylees, refugees, trafficking victims and victims of domestic violence are all exempt from the public-charge rule. Also exempt: individuals granted relief under the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Nicaraguan and Central American Relief Act and the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act.

The new rule also has exemptions for some benefits that will not be counted under the rule: the Medicare Part D low-income program subsidy, as well as benefits awarded to pregnant women or children under 21.

RELATED STORY: Florida among sites Trump administration is scouting for child migrant facilities

According to the American Immigration Council, there were about 4.1 million people who were non-citizens living in Florida in 2017, and 26 percent of them— about 1.2 million — have used some type of health care, food, housing or government cash-support benefit.

Migrants currently make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits, mainly because many are ineligible from the start because of their immigration status. However, analysts say the new rule is more likely to have a direct impact on people who wouldn’t be targeted at all.

“Strictly speaking, the number of people who are directly affected by this is much smaller than the universe of people who think they are affected and are going to react to this,” said Matt Childers, director of research and policy at the Florida Health Justice Project, a bipartisan research nonprofit organization . “This is called a ‘chilling effect.’ “

A recent study from Protecting Immigrant Families, a campaign formed by the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Immigration Law Center, noted that “by threatening immigration status when immigrants use programs to meet their family’s basic needs, the proposal would make immigrant families in Florida afraid to access programs — like health care and food assistance — that support essential needs.”

That study noted that about 2.1 million people in Florida would experience the “chilling effects” of the new rule, including 609,000 children. The bulk of that population live in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Those figures are based on families with at least one non-citizen and earned income under 250 percent of the federal poverty line.

“Families’ fear to participate in Medicaid could result in coverage losses throughout Florida, decreased access to care, and worse health outcomes for the entire family, including U.S. citizen children,” the Protecting Immigrant Families report said. “Decreased participation among Florida immigrant families in food assistance could lead to higher levels of poverty and food insecurity.”

In two briefs published in November — while the rule was in draft form — the Florida Health Justice Project analyzed the impacts that the changes would have on SNAP enrollment (food stamps) and healthcare coverage among U.S.-born children in “mixed-status” families in Florida and its major metropolitan areas.

The report said that about 80,000 kids would lose food stamp benefits and more than 107,000 kids would lose health insurance in Florida because households are expected to not apply for benefits out of fear. More than half of them reside in the Miami metropolitan area. The analysis used data from the 2016 American Community Survey.

Childers noted that the number of citizen children who would be adversely affected under the rule is significantly higher than the data he shared for various reasons.

“No. 1, this analysis does not include an estimate of the children who are currently eligible but not enrolled in the program. No. 2, the chilling effects from the changes in the public-charge rule are likely to be much greater than what we estimate here because this is a policy change that is directly targeting immigrants,” he said.

The numbers are based on the estimate that 15 to 35 percent of households with at least one non-immigrant member will disenroll from their benefits out of fear. The estimate was measured based on “unintended consequences” of the 1990s welfare reform, Childers said, which was not meant to directly target immigrants, yet led to mass disenrollments from Medicaid.

“This is how it will work: It will affect lots of people who are applying for green cards and visas but will affect even more people who otherwise wouldn’t be affected at all — all because of fear, confusion and lack of good information.”

Childers said various immigration and policy organizations are in the midst of organizing community informational workshops for people in South Florida.


  1. Michele Arceneaux, former president of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, speaks during a press conference against three proposed toll roads in the Florida Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. LAWRENCE MOWER  |  Lawrence Mower
    The announcement came as the Florida Chamber of Commerce touted the proposed roads.
  2. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Members of the Florida Supreme Court listen to a speech by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in the Florida House during a joint session of the Florida Legislature. Left to Right are: Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, Barbara Lagoa, and Robert J. Luck.  SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Fights over abortion, Amendment 4 and new congressional maps are all on a crash course with the high court.
  3. The Florida House Education Committee focuses on early education in its first meeting of the 2020 session. It has met just once more since then. The Florida Channel
    Lawmakers have yet to set an aggressive agenda beyond talk of teacher pay as the 2020 legislative session nears.
  4. Kevin J. Thibault, left, Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation. OCTAVIO JONES   |   TIMES  |  Times
    The report found a lack of oversight and controls by the department.
  5. Agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried speaks at pre-legislative news conference on Tuesday Oct. 29, 2019, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants his state to set up a system that will require employers to verify the immigration status of job applicants. But it's unclear if that effort will get any traction among lawmakers, especially since a similar effort failed during the most recent legislative session earlier this year. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) STEVE CANNON  |  AP
    It was the second unusual decision Fried has made to refrain from voting on the Office of Financial Regulation.
  6. George Buck, left, a Republican running for Congress in St. Petersburg, signed a fundraising letter that suggested U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, right, a Somali-born Democrat representing Minnesota, and other Democrats should be executed. Buck is challenging U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg. Times | Associated Press
    House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy removed Buck from the party’s Young Guns program.
  7. FILE - In this Oct. 22, 2018 file photo, people gather around the Ben & Jerry's "Yes on 4" truck as they learn about Amendment 4 and eat free ice cream at Charles Hadley Park in Miami. A federal judge has temporarily set aside a Florida law that barred some felons from voting because of their inability to pay fines and other legal debts. The ruling handed down Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle means thousands of felons who were denied the right to vote will be able to cast ballots unless the state gets a higher court to intervene or if Hinkle later upholds the constitutionality of the state law. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File) WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    The 2018 ballot measure passed by voters allowing most non-violent felons to register to vote would be void if an earlier judicial ruling is upheld, an attorney representing DeSantis’ administration...
  8. In this Aug. 28, 2014, photo, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko makes a statement, at Boryspil airport in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Mikhail Palinchak)
    Taking a closer look at what the story does — and doesn’t — show about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016.
  9. Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee speaks at an October news conference in Tallahassee. STEVE CANNON  |  Associated Press
    Hackers don’t need to break into elections systems to cause chaos. They could just change the results on every county’s website.
  10. Members of the Florida Supreme Court listen to Gov. Ron DeSantis' speech during a joint session of the Florida Legislature in March. Left to Right are: Chief Justice Charles T. Canady, Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga, Alan Lawson, Barbara Lagoa, and Robert J. Luck. There are now five members of the court after Lagoa and Luck were appointed to the 11th District Court of Appeal by President Trump. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    There are 3.6 million unaffiliated voters who cannot vote in Florida’s closed primary system. Will that change in 2020?