The new rule will mainly impact those seeking permanent resident status through family member petitions.
"We have a lot people who are eligible for lots of benefits who are voluntarily removing themselves from those benefits for their families, and they need those benefits," said Szmara.
That's been the case at health centers around
"They've always been worried, but now they're scared," he said. "They're scared to death. Everyone has to talk to them about the importance of continuing their care, and we'll do everything we can to ensure that they do."
The new green card policy, also known as the "public charge," takes affect
Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the
Under the new policy,
Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the changes, warning the rules would scare immigrants away from asking for needed help.
And that's exactly what is happening in north central
"There aren't a lot of places to turn to find honest and truthful answers, so our immigrant families are doing the best they can figuring out what [the public charge policy] might mean for them," Szmara said. "Most assume it will impact them, and so they remove themselves from programs they shouldn't be removing themselves from."
"We hate it that this is happening," Thomas said. "There is no reason that kids should have to make a decision whether to go see the doctor."
Plank said the fear surrounding the new policy could have real health consequences for immigrant families who choose to stop getting federally subsidized healthcare.
"There's fear among the staff the families are going to withdraw their kids from getting the very necessary primary care they need, like immunizations and checkups," he said. " ... If we don't provide this kind of primary care to the people who live in our communities, they will end up in an emergency room or hospital, when all they needed was to get their shots and a physical."
Local immigrants are also pulling out of WIC, a federal nutrition program aimed at pregnant women and children, out of fear it could affect their legal status.
"We have tried repeatedly to reassure folks that we are not linked to ICE and we do not report anyone to any agency," Burke-Mulkey said in an email. "Our goal is only to help them and reporting them would certainly not serve that goal."
Plank said the confusion and concern around the upcoming green card policy is just the most recent manifestation of immigrants' terror following the election of President
He said soon after Trump took office, the number of Hispanic patients coming to the clinics plummeted after a false rumor spread that ICE would raid the hospitals to find illegal immigrants.
Immigrant Connection's Szmara said the goal now in north central
"We've done our best to educate the immigrant communities, but it's going to be our service providers and nonprofits being aware of the change and helping immigrants through that change," he said. "I think they'll figure it out as a population -- that they are afforded these benefits, and so they should have use of them."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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