New Trump immigration rules put wealthy at front of the line

By Marilyn Bechtel

Response has been swift to new immigration regulations made public by the Department of Homeland Security Sept. 22 and formally proposed Oct. 10. If confirmed following a two-month public comment period, the regulations would greatly expand “public charge” stipulations that put immigrants at risk of having permanent legal immigration status denied if they use public benefits.

Under current rules, in place for nearly 20 years, only using cash assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or government-funded long-term institutional care have counted as showing a person is likely to become a “public charge.”

Under the Trump administration’s new proposal, these would be expanded to include programs including Medicaid, public housing, Section 8 housing assistance, food stamps, and Medicare’s low-income subsidy to help seniors pay for prescription drugs. Low- and moderate-income immigrants using these programs would find it much harder to get a green card, extend or change their temporary status in the U.S.

Although the Department of Homeland Security is asking for opinions about the Children’s Health Insurance Program, CHIP has not yet been added to the list.

At the same time, preference would be weighted to favor immigrants with higher incomes.

The proposed regulations aren’t retroactive and don’t apply to refugees and other protected groups or to green card holders when they apply for citizenship.

Immigration rights advocates warn that if the new rules go into effect, they will greatly worsen the difficulties immigrant families face, including those with U.S.-born children.

Coming forward immediately with protests and a call for action was a broad Protecting Immigrant Familiescoalition of more than 1,550 national, state, regional, and local organizations—public service, labor, faith-based, professional, health, social, and immigrant rights movements and many more—led by the National Immigration Law Center and the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

Among the coalition’s many members: the AFL-CIO, NAACP, Church World Service, SEIU, National Association of Social Workers, National Association of County and City Health Officials, League of Women Voters, U.S. Conference of Mayors, American Psychological Association, American Friends Service Committee, and ACLU.

In its Oct. 10 statement, the coalition said the draft regulations would put immigrant families in danger of worsening hunger, deepening poverty and unmet health and housing needs, and would “mark a fundamental change from our nation’s historic commitment to welcoming immigrants.”

The new rules would put the wealthy “at the front of the line, ahead of hardworking families who have waited years to reunite,” deepen the country’s racial divisions, and “make immigrant families afraid to seek programs that support basic needs,” the coalition said.

Calling the proposal “reckless, deeply unfair, and inconsistent with core American values,” CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden said it “equates worth with wealth and moves families who have already waited years to the end of the line.”

Golden urged people to submit their views during the public comment period that lasts until Dec. 10: “The law gives us all a voice on proposed regulations, so we can still stop this one.”

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said of the proposal, “The same administration that used your tax dollars to tear babies from their mothers’ arms wants sweeping new powers to decide what America looks like.” She, too, emphasized the need for public comments.

In a statement issued last month, NAACP President Derrick Johnson called the DHS proposal “racist, petty, and inhumane,” and warned that it “seeks to brutally tear away piece by piece the humanity of immigrants, particularly the poor and immigrants of color” and directly contradicts “the ideas of acceptance and inclusion which have brought millions who sought refuge to our shores.”

On Oct. 10, the United States Conference of Mayors wrote to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, “As mayors, we see firsthand, every day, the positive impact that immigrants have on our communities…. This misguided policy will hurt our people, our cities, and our nation. It denies our history and jeopardizes our future.”

Sonia Schwartz, a senior policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center and co-chair of the coalition, told radio station KQED last week that the Protecting Immigrant Families coalition is working to have “armies of people” submit their comments before Dec. 10, about the harm the new regulations would cause.

“I’m working with hundreds of groups across the country to push back on this rule with everything we’ve got,” she said.

You can submit your comment by going to the home page of the Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition’s website.

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