Guest columnists Javier Luengo-Garrido and Laurie Millman: Let’s avert the Trump administration’s latest attack on immigrants

  • President Donald Trump speaks during a tour as he reviews border wall prototypes in San Diego, March 13, 2018.  AP PHOTO/Evan Vucci

Published: 11/26/2018 11:06:34 AM

The Trump administration is rushing to implement yet another pernicious part of its anti-immigrant agenda — and the deadline to fight back is approaching.

Last month, the administration proposed changing the “public charge” rule, which would undermine access to essential health, nutrition and shelter for immigrants and their families. It’s a proposed policy that would have devastating impacts on immigrant neighbors in our community, across the state and throughout the country.

Before President Trump’s “public charge” rule can be finalized, the administration is required by law to review and respond to every unique public comment received about the proposed regulation. Dec. 10 is the deadline to post public comment in opposition to the proposed change.

Currently, “public charge” is defined as an immigrant who is “likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” It counts cash benefits and institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. The Trump administration’s proposed rule change to “public charge” includes expanding the definition to immigrants “who receive one or more public benefits.” This means non-cash benefits like food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and Medicare.

“Public charge” currently applies to people who want to enter the U.S. and become lawful permanent residents. It also impacts lawful permanent residents who leave the U.S. for more than six months and later want to re-enter. It does not apply to lawful permanent residents applying for citizenship, renewing green cards, or refugees, asylees and some other categories of immigrants.

Currently, people petitioning for family members to come to the U.S. and become lawful permanent residents must submit an affidavit of support showing that they have income or assets equivalent to at least 125 percent of the poverty guidelines. Under the proposed changes, the income limit is increased to 250 percent of the poverty guidelines. Trump’s unfair public charge regulation would cut many families off from programs and services they need while creating a system that heavily favors the wealthy. 

In addition to financial resources, the government will also consider the applicant’s age, health, family status, education and skills to determine whether an immigrant might constitute a “public charge.” If the intending immigrant does not have the education, skills, health and work history to suggest that they would be able to obtain good jobs, they could be denied. The administration’s changes to the “public charge” rule would send the message that people who are retired, people who do not speak English, and people with pre-existing conditions are not welcome in America.

The rule change is still just a proposal, but it is already discouraging immigrants from accessing benefits to which they are legally entitled for fear of jeopardizing their status. The decline in immigrants’ usage of these benefits is generating alarm at health centers, food pantries and other community-based service providers.

Beyond the social impact, there is no evidence that immigrants who receive public benefits become long-term financial burdens on the government. Data from the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) demonstrates the opposite; in fact, because of their strong work ethic, immigrants are less likely to live at the poverty level than native-born Americans. 

This proposal is the latest move in a campaign to reduce the number of immigrants who come to and remain in the U.S. It violates the long and deeply-held American belief that we are a nation of immigrants. If finalized, the proposal would fundamentally change our nation’s historic commitment to welcoming immigrants.

Federal law requires the government to read and consider every unique comment before making a decision. The most effective way to comment is to share specific stories and examples of why this rule is cruel and unjustifiable. 

We encourage our neighbors to post comments before the Dec. 10 deadline. They can be posted through the websites of these two organizations: Protecting Immigrant Families and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Javier Luengo-Garrido is the project coordinator for the ACLU of Massachusetts’ Immigrant Protection Project. Laurie Millman is the executive director of Center for New Americans in Northampton.

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