Immigrant senior citizens could be forced to choose between paying for long-term care support and losing their immigration status if the federal government’s new inadmissibility rule goes into effect, leading advocates warn.

The government’s Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds Final rule was denounced by the National Council on Aging President and Chief Executive Officer James Firman, who called it “antithetical to the values of a just, caring and welcoming America.” 

“Immigrant seniors who have played by the rules will have to make an impossible choice between going hungry and avoiding needed long-term care support or losing their immigration status. This regulation will create a personal and moral hazard for older adults who are looking to age with their families around them,” Firman said. 

Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published the amended rule, which is set to take effect in October. The rule targets poor, legal immigrants who are seeking to become permanent U.S. residents. 

Once in effect, the rule would allow the government to base the green card decision on whether that immigrant could later be seen as a financial burden on taxpayers — meaning poor immigrants could be denied if they use government benefit programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps. 

“We have heard from our community partners that older adult immigrants are already afraid and unwilling to seek participation in public benefits for which they are eligible – and have an intense need for – because they fear repercussions for their family or themselves,” Firman said. “Now, we fear a wider range of older adult immigrants will not seek these healthcare, nutrition, and housing programs that enable them to live independently and with dignity.”

Firman also said one in four home care workers are immigrants and the new rule could “decimate” the support needed to care for seniors.