Others’ opinion: New immigration rules could hurt kids and their schools

Published 8:28 am Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Trump administration’s new take on immigration law could have a negative ripple effect on families, children and their schools. It’s an unnecessary, punitive change that should be rescinded before it can take effect.

That administration’s new interpretation of the “public charge” provision of the law means that immigrants could be denied green cards and visas if they use — or are expected to use — a range of government benefits such as food assistance, housing vouchers and Medicaid.

But it’s not just individual adults who could be harmed. Minnesota state education officials are rightly concerned that the rule could take away essential services from families and children, as well as funding from already resource-strapped school districts.

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According to the Migration Policy Institute, an estimated 70,000 noncitizens in Minnesota could be affected by the new rule. MPI further reports that 151,400 people live in a household in which a noncitizen receives a benefit. If food, health or housing assistance is lost, it could affect everyone in those households — including the school-age children.

The final rule change includes Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) among the noncash benefits included in the new public charge assessment. The school lunch and breakfast programs, however, are not included.

Still, Minnesota Assistant Education Commissioner Daron Korte said Minnesota educators are concerned that some immigrant families may avoid signing up for income-based programs they’re legally entitled to — such as free and reduced-price lunch — for fear of jeopardizing their status. And outside of school, those same families might lose their eligibility for SNAP. That means lower-income children may not receive an adequate amount of food at school or at home.

“There will likely be an overall chilling effect for many state and federal assistance programs,” Korte told an editorial writer. “There’s general confusion — families don’t know which programs are subject to the rule and which ones aren’t.”

Korte said the department doesn’t have any solid estimates of the potential impact. But through anecdotes, several state agencies predict up to a 25 percent drop in the numbers of Medicaid-eligible schoolchildren. That matters because many schools receive Medicaid reimbursement for services provided to disabled and other kids.

Korte added that if families don’t apply for SNAP, or are deemed ineligible, they won’t be automatically enrolled for free and reduced-price lunch in Minnesota. Lunch assistance programs are the major determinate of poverty levels in schools, which in turn drives some state and federal funding.

Minnesota’s compensatory aid formula sends additional dollars to schools and districts that have higher concentrations of poverty. If those numbers and concentrations drop, so would the funds for schools even though they would still be required to provide the services.

The new, more damaging interpretation of the public charge rule was finalized last month and is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15. However, it could be delayed because of legal challenges filed by more than a dozen state attorneys general, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board previously argued that rule change is an unnecessary attack on immigrants who want to be here legally. It’s also unfair to their children and the schools that are responsible for helping them learn.