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Sofia’s Story | The Chilling Effect 

Written By: Blanca Gutierrez

Names and other identifying information have been changed to protect the anonymity of CVP participants

Born and raised in Mexico, Sofia closes her eyes and with a smile recalls her childhood, “I lived in an apartment complex; many other kids lived there. We would always go out and play. I liked the weather so much because it was always really hot- an eternal Spring.”

Sofia Garcia is a stay-at-home mom. She loves her two kids and says that what makes her most proud is hearing her children tell her she is the best mom ever. You can tell that her kids are her world as she gushes over them.  She is the type of woman who would do anything for her children, including seeking medical care, even when doing so is frightening.

Sofia began going to therapy covered by Medi-Cal as a way to help her son overcome behavioral challenges. “The reason I started seeking mental health services was because I started to notice changes with my son. I saw that his behavior was impacting my behavior as well. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. So, I thought, now is the time to seek help. That is why I enrolled in Medi-Cal and they recommended therapy.” While it is a difficult subject to talk about, Sofia is determined to do whatever is in her power to see her son through.

She began using WIC when she was pregnant with her first child, but describes hesitancy in using the program, “I didn’t want to use WIC because I always thought I would be a public charge to the government.”

She, along with her husband have lived in Contra Costa County for several years. They met on the dance floor, she says, “We met on Halloween and he asked me to dance, I said yes- I thought he was cute. We were friends for six months and then he asked me to be his girlfriend because he liked the way I carried myself. He liked that I always had self-respect.”  Her husband works hard to support her and their two children. Their goal is to obtain lawful permanent residency so that they can have a stable future and know with certainty that they will never be separated. While her husband qualifies for some benefit programs she says, “he doesn’t request any help from the government. He doesn’t want it to affect the process of fixing his papers.”

Sofia and her husband are eligible for many benefit programs but forego them because they are afraid it may negatively impact them in the future, and they aren’t alone. In fact, a multitude of reports have already emerged across the nation as more and more immigrants discontinue use or refuse to enroll in benefit programs based off wrong information and fear of legal ramifications since the Trump Administration leaked a draft proposing a change to public charge rules. As a result of the leaked draft, public charge myths began spreading through word of mouth and some ethnic news media outlets with wrong information began wrongfully advising viewers to disenroll from all benefit programs[1]. The Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign notes that 42% of health care providers reported an increase in skipped health appointments[2].

In actuality, changes to public charge rules have not gone into effect yet and the proposal is not retroactive. Meaning, there is NO benefit in disenrolling from Medi-Cal, CalFresh, and federally funded housing assistance programs right now. Currently, eligible individuals can enroll and continue using benefits without becoming a public charge. Even more important to understand is that so many public benefit programs, like WIC, have been excluded from counting negatively against an applicant during a public charge assessment. This means that even after the proposal becomes effective, many benefit programs will continue to not count against an applicant during the public charge assessment.

Immigrants like Sofia are pros at mitigating hardships and maintaining hope by holding onto her dreams and convictions. She was brought up by parents who taught her what it means to struggle and still persevere. “My parents always tell me that the world may tell you no- but at least you tried. That is something that has always stayed with me, that you always have to try. That you shouldn’t let the world define you. They have always fought to move forward, and they have always motivated me to do the same.”

[1] https://www.cjr.org/covering_the_health_care_fight/wic-immigrants.php

[2] https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/PIF-Documenting-Harm-Fact-Sheet-Final-4.18.19.pdf