Attorney General Balderas to Trump Admin: Stop discouraging people from accessing health coverage during pandemic

For Immediate Release:
March 19, 2020
Contact: Matt Baca — (505) 270-7148

Santa Fe, NM – While the COVID-19 public health crisis continues, the Trump
Administration refuses to confirm that accessing health coverage will not impair lawful
immigrants’ ability to stay in the country, asserts a new letter from Attorney General
Balderas and 17 other attorneys general. Following an internally contradictory and
confusing alert from the Trump Administration purporting to address the controversy,
Attorney General Balderas has again joined a coalition of attorneys general in calling on
the Trump Administration to delay its “public charge” rule while the COVID-19 outbreak
spreads across the nation.
“President Trump continues to risk the health and safety of families all across the
country by not immediately ensuring that every person has safe access to health care
during this pandemic,” said Attorney General Balderas. “We are are all in this together,
and we must ensure that everyone is seeking access to care so that we can stop the
spread of this deadly virus.”
Federal law allows many lawful immigrants to apply for public benefits, such as health
care, if they have been in the country for at least five years. The new rule creates a
“bait-and-switch” ― if immigrants use the public assistance to which they are legally
entitled, they would jeopardize their chances of later renewing their visa or becoming
permanent residents.
Attorney General Balderas is also leading the State of New Mexico as a participant in a
multistate coalition challenging this rule. The coalition won an injunction in federal
district court but an appeals court declined to stay the rule while the case is pending.
Today’s letter to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and U.S. Citizenship &
Immigration Services (USCIS) senior official Ken Cuccinelli, follows a March 6 letter the
attorneys general sent to the same officials calling for the rule’s suspension. Though
neither official responded to the initial letter, USCIS posted an “alert” on March 13 that
said the government would not consider any form of testing or care related to COVID-19
in immigrants’ public charge assessment, “even if such treatment is provided or paid for
by one or more public benefits, as defined in the rule (e.g. federally funded Medicaid).”
However, the letter points out that the alert contains confusing and internally
contradictory statements about the impact using Medicaid will have on non-citizens.
“If DHS is attempting to ensure noncitizens in our communities remain enrolled in
Medicaid so they can use Medicaid services should they have symptoms of COVID-19,
the Alert fails to achieve this,” the attorneys general’s letter states. “And likewise, if DHS
is attempting to ensure that noncitizens seek testing and treatment for COVID-19
without fear of public charge consequences, the Alert also utterly fails to achieve this.”
“The Alert fails to recognize that in order to receive adequate health services, our
residents need adequate health insurance benefits,” the letter continues. “To achieve
DHS’s stated goal of encouraging noncitizens to seek testing and treatment for COVID19, noncitizens must be encouraged to enroll or remain enrolled in health insurance
programs, including Medicaid, and they must be assured that such enrollment during
this dire national health emergency will not be considered in any future public charge
The conflicting statements could cause immigrants to forgo medical treatment that could
be critical to protecting our communities from the spread of the virus, the attorneys
general write.
“Given the grave danger facing our nation’s health and economy, it is imperative that
DHS not chill immigrants from enrolling in Medicaid or using Medicaid benefits for any
purpose until the COVID-19 crisis is over. Under the Alert, however, noncitizens who
remain enrolled in Medicaid continue to risk their green cards and visas. As DHS
previously conceded, this will prompt immigrants to disenroll from Medicaid and lead to
an ‘increased prevalence of communicable diseases,’ as the nation is now experiencing
at a horrifying rate.
“To protect the residents of our states and the rest of the country, we ask that DHS
immediately announce that the Rule is stayed pending successful containment of
COVID-19. Short of that, however, it is imperative that DHS at least make clear that
enrollment in Medicaid and the use of Medicaid benefits for any reason will not be
considered in the public charge assessment. Given that these benefits were not
considered in the public charge assessment for many years prior to DHS’s recent
change of policy, it is inexplicably harmful for the agency to begin counting them now,
during the outbreak of a lethal global pandemic.”
Joining Attorney General Balderas on the letter are the attorneys general of California,
Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada,
New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, and
Washington, D.C.

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