ICHS press conference advocates against new definition of “public charge”

International Community Health Services (ICHS) and Children’s Alliance, a member of the Protecting Immigrant Rights – WA (PIF-WA) coalition, co-hosted a press conference on Sept. 25, at ICHS’s International District Clinic. A panel of representatives from health, legal and service organizations advocated against proposed changes to the definition of “public charge” that would deny green cards to legal immigrants if they access certain public benefits.

The draft regulation released on Sept. 22, targets a wide range of non-cash public assistance—including Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance and Medicare prescription drug assistance.

ICHS’s Nutrition Services Supervisor Aliya Haq joined representatives from the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, OneAmerica, King County Public Health, Northwest Harvest and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to emphasize the severe health and human costs should the regulation go into effect. Participants described how half a million Washingtonians could be pushed away from crucial health, nutrition and educational assistance – to far-reaching detriment.

Haq shared stories of ICHS patients who, out of fear of future reprisal, have already denied themselves or their family members benefits, describing the resulting health and human cost as “heartbreaking.”

The panel’s legal expert also shared a strong message that immigrants and their families should not dis-enroll from public benefits in response to the draft rule’s release. If the rule were to become final—which would take several months—immigrants would not be penalized for past enrollment.

The coalition is preparing for the draft’s pending publication in the federal register. Once published, members of the public will have 60 days to file comments in opposition to slow down or block the rule. ICHS and its partners will mobilize to encourage individuals to submit comments, as well as work within communities to ease fears and misperceptions, and ensure continued access to health programs and services.

The coalition emphasized in a press statement, “Above all, families who fear they may be affected by this rule should know they’re not alone, and that there’s time to fight back.”

Aliya Haq, ICHS nutrition services supervisor, contributed as a spokesperson for a panel discussion and Q&A.