Immigrants are turning down government help to buy infant formula and healthy food for their young children because they’re afraid the Trump administration could bar them from getting a green card if they take federal aid.
Local health providers say they’ve received panicked phone calls from both documented and undocumented immigrant families demanding to be dropped from the rolls of WIC, a federal nutrition program aimed at pregnant women and children, after news reports that the White House is potentially planning to deny legal status to immigrants who’ve used public benefits. Agencies in at least 18 states say they’ve seen drops of up to 20 percent in enrollment, and they attribute the change largely to fears about the immigration policy.
The Trump administration hasn’t officially put the policy in place yet, but even without a formal rule, families are already being scared away from using services, health providers say.
“It’s a stealth regulation,” said Kathleen Campbell Walker, an immigration attorney at Dickinson Wright in El Paso, Texas. “It doesn’t really exist, but it’s being applied subliminally.”
Health advocates say the policy change could put more babies who are U.S.-born citizens at risk of low birth weight and other problems — undermining public health while also potentially fueling higher health care costs at taxpayer expense. WIC — formally the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children — serves about half of all babies born in the U.S by providing vouchers or benefit cards so pregnant women and families with small children can buy staple foods and infant formula. The program is also designed to support women who are breastfeeding.