A proposed change to federal immigration rule could cost Florida hundreds of millions

How rich do you have to be to immigrate to the U.S. and be able to stay? How about to Florida?

These are the questions the nonprofit policy analysis group Florida Policy Institute is asking the Department of Homeland Security after the agency proposed a change to a federal immigration rule that could alter how immigration officials judge who can enter the country.

The current “public charge” immigration rule says that people wanting to enter the country will be denied entry or citizenship if they are likely to (or already do) depend on the government for more than half their income.

The new rule DHS proposed Oct. 10 would give immigration officials broader scope to determine if someone will become a public charge or not and weighs other “non-cash” benefits like food, health coverage and housing assistance.

It would also keep people who are here legally, but not as residents – such as tourists, students, business travelers and temporary workers – from changing their immigration status or applying to extend their stay in the country if they rely on the government for assistance.

“Self-sufficiency has been a basic principle of United States immigration law since this country’s earliest immigration statutes,” one section of the U.S. immigration codes reads.

But the Florida Policy Institute contends that the proposed rule change doesn’t have anything to do with self-sufficiency and is counter to the philosophy of an “American Dream.”

The Institute says the rule would impact an estimated 1.6 million Floridians and would also cost the state hundreds of millions in federal funding if people drop out of programs for needy families, such as food stamps and Medicaid, because of what the Institute calls a “chilling effect.”

“These are the people likely to be confused about whether they should apply for benefits if they qualify and who may decide not to apply for benefits altogether,” Florida Policy Institute says. “Also included are people currently getting benefits who will likely disenroll due to fear of the consequences.”

Florida could lose anywhere from $400 million to $930 million in federal funding if 15-35 percent of people in the state disenroll from government assistance programs, the Institute reports.

“This proposal 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,” the Florida Policy Institute says.

The proposed rule would not apply to refugees, people who have political asylum, Afghans and Iraqis with certain immigrant visas, nonimmigrant trafficking and crime victims, and others.

DHS filed the proposed change in the Federal Registry for a 60-day public comment period which ends Dec. 10. After that, DHS will announce when the rule will go into place.

CD Davidson-Hiers
CD Davidson-Hiers is a 2017 summa cum laude graduate of Florida State University with a degree in Creative Writing and French. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key honors societies, and has received multiple writing awards for fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Prior to joining the Florida Phoenix, CD worked at the Tallahassee Democrat and has bylines in Tallahassee Magazine. She is a native of Pensacola and currently lives in Tallahassee with her tabby cat, Faulkner.

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