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How the Fear of Immigration Enforcement Impacts Latino Immigrant Health

Written by:

Daniela Marin - MSW Intern (Monmouth University)

Saray Ramos - Director of Policy and Advocacy, MPA Candidate (Rutgers University)

Dr. Jesselly De La Cruz, DSW, LCSW - Executive Director



Fear of immigration enforcement among Latino/a/x immigrant communities is one of the most commonly identified structural barriers to accessing community-based health care and social service programs. These fears are justified and reinforced when policies like the Public Charge rule under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security - Immigration and Customs Enforcement punish immigrant families for participating in social welfare programs. For example, in New Jersey, eligible children under the age 19 qualify for access to Medicaid regardless of immigration status and accessing NJFamilyCare for immigrant children is allowed under the current Public Charge Rule. However, many immigrant families hesitate to engage in programs like these despite being eligible because they fear the potential impact on their current or future path to a legal immigration status.

This is why direct community outreach and bilingual peer-to-peer health programs tend to be crucial to bridging health disparities among Latino/a/x families with mixed immigration statuses. When entering the country, based on the “public charge” rule immigrants can be denied or granted access to enter the United States. This is based on how likely they are to become primarily dependent on the government for support in the future. The rule does not apply to all who enter the country and does not consider all public benefits as public charge. The benefits considered as “public charge” are on-going cash benefits, such as SSI and General Assistance, and long-term institutional care at the expense of the government. Most immigrants subject to this test are not eligible for the benefits that are classified as “public charge”, but may still be eligible for other ones such as Medicaid and nutrition programs (PIF, 2023). The current Public Charge Rule allows eligible applicants to apply for and receive a majority of public benefits without fear of affecting their immigration status, including NJ FamilyCare for eligible children regardless of immigration status. For detailed information on which benefits are accessible for immigrant communities, please visit https://www.lanfoundation.org/post/the-biden-public-charge-regulation.


Political Challenges to the Existing Public Charge Rule

During the Trump Administration, there had been changes made to the criteria of the “public charge” rule that extended what benefits are subject to the test and expanded the amount of denials for greencards. Previously, the rule had only applied to cash benefits but changes in the “public charge” rule increased confusion and fear for immigrants in using benefits they had previously been eligible for, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. It was found that, more than 1 in 5 adults in low-income immigrant families reported they or a family member avoided benefits out of fear of green card denial (Urban Institute, 2022) resulting in immigrant and mixed-status families not always being able to meet their basic needs. The “public charge” rule has since returned back to the criteria prior to the Trump administration, yet eligible individuals continue to be wary of applying for public benefits out of fear and misinformation.

Last month, the House passed an amendment proposed to the Department of Homeland Security Fiscal Year 2024 funding legislation, known as the Biggs/Gossar public charge amendment. This would take away funding from Biden’s public charge rule that was finalized in 2022, and would bring back the fear and confusion that existed during the Trump administration, if passed by the Senate and implemented. It is important to stay up to date with the “public charge” test criteria as it continues to go through changes.


Takeaways and Actions to Celebrate National Immigrant Day!


  1. The current Public Charge Rule allows eligible applicants to apply for and receive a majority of public benefits without fear of affecting their immigration status, including NJ FamilyCare for eligible children regardless of immigration status. Reshare this article and accurate information on the current policy on social media and with friends!


  1. Let your friends and family know that resources in multiple languages are available on up to date Public Charge regulations, including the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov), Protecting Immigrant Families (pifcoalition.org), and LANF (lanfoundation.org).


  1. Direct community outreach and bilingual peer-to-peer health programs are crucial to bridging health disparities among Latino/a/x families with mixed immigration statuses. Learn more about Latino community-based organizations throughout the state here! These community partners can help provide more information on various social service programs.


  1. Collective advocacy continues to be necessary to fight back anti-immigrant policy efforts that negatively impact health disparities among Latino/a/x families. Join our mailing list for opportunities to remain involved.


References and Resources

Immigrant families faced multiple barriers to safety net programs in 2021. Urban Institute. (2022, November 10). https://www.urban.org/research/publication/immigrant-families-faced-multiple-barriers-safety-net-programs-2021

Overview: Does public charge apply to me?. Protecting Immigrant Families. (2022a, September 12). https://pifcoalition.org/resource/does-public-charge-apply-to-me

Public charge: What advocates need to know. Protecting Immigrant Families. (2022b, September 12). https://pifcoalition.org/resource/public-charge-resource-what-advocates-need-to-know


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