One Year and Counting in the Fight to Protect Immigrant Families
By Madison Allen
One year ago, on December 10, 2018, I was drafting a final email to supporters in the Protecting Immigrant Families (PIF) Campaign urging them to make one last push before the deadline for public comments on the Department of Homeland Security’s proposed “public charge” rule. The night before, I texted personal requests to friends and family members asking them to submit their own comments. For the two months leading up to the deadline, thousands of allies across the country worked tirelessly to solicit comments from their networks and communities. As I hit send on that last e-mail, I could not have imagined the success of our effort to generate 100,000 comments. We far exceeded those expectations, ultimately generating more than a quarter million comments.
One year ago, I also could not have predicted that we would now have 9 lawsuits filed and multiple preliminary injunctions preventing implementation of the rule. Some of those injunctions have subsequently been lifted, and we know the legal battle will continue. But today we celebrate the fact that one year after the end of public charge comment period, the rule has still not been implemented anywhere in the country. Furthermore, in the process of fighting back, we have developed a new regulatory response framework to prepare us for the challenges ahead.
The connection between high-quality public comments and successful litigation is plainly evident in all the court orders enjoining the public charge rule. Moreover, the implications of advocate and community engagement in the regulatory process extend far beyond this single issue. Over the past year, we have seen a revolution in how advocates engage in the notice and comment period as multiple partner organizations coordinated incredible, large-scale public comment campaigns in response to a steady stream of regulatory threats from the Trump Administration to immigrants.
An excellent example of this new framework for challenging proposed regulations comes from our partners at the National Housing Law Project and the National Low-Income Housing Coalition—both essential leaders in the public charge fight. This past summer, the two organizations organized a massive response to a proposed rule from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that would force over 100,000 immigrants to make the impossible choice between tearing their families apart or facing eviction and homelessness. Shortly after the proposed rule was announced, the organizations joined forces to launch the Keep Families Together campaign, which broke the record for comments on any HUD rule with 30,447 comments—30 times the previous record. HUD will need to respond to the thousands of submitted comments as it drafts a final rule, and once it publishes the final rule, groups may pursue litigation.
As anti-poverty and immigrant rights organizations have honed our administrative advocacy skills, the Trump Administration has pushed forward other harmful policies and become even more blatant in its disregard of the required public input. One of the clearest examples of this desperation was when the administration announced an “emergency” two-day comment period in October on the President’s Health Insurance Proclamation that would bar entry by immigrants who can’t demonstrate health insurance coverage or sufficient resources to cover foreseeable medical costs. CLASP and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) were able to organize and submit a sign-on comment in opposition to the proposal with more than 400 partner organizations. Just before Thanksgiving, a federal judge in Oregon issued a preliminary injunction, preventing the policy from going into effect.
2019 has been a transformative year for administrative activism through the one-two punch of comments and litigation. Although our block-and-delay tactics have resulted in some early successes, we’re experiencing the ups and downs that come with litigation and the appeals process. We’ve also seen that injunctions alone aren’t enough to eliminate the intense fear that’s been building in immigrant communities since the start of the Trump Administration. We know that the proposals are designed to make immigrants and people of color feel afraid and unwelcome. Despite recent legal victories, our state-based partners continue to share first-hand accounts of immigrant families who are already afraid to participate or allow their children to participate in health care, housing, and nutrition programs. Their stories show that it’s not enough to block a harmful policy—we must make sure that impacted individuals know about it. And we know that accurate information from trusted sources can make a difference; one of our community partners described a father who was willing to ask for help after attending a presentation that explained the facts around public charge.
Heading into 2020, one of the PIF Campaign’s top priorities will be to ensure that successful comment campaigns and subsequent legal victories translate into meaningful changes for individuals, children, and families. As we navigate an uncertain future with pending court decisions on public charge, ensuring that impacted individuals have access to timely, accurate information is more important than ever. We look forward to deepening our commitment to community-based partners who have the tremendous task of helping their clients, patients, and neighbors understand how they may be affected by this increasingly tumultuous policy landscape.