A day after the Trump administration announced it wants to block people who receive public assistance from attaining legal permanent residency in the United States, Maria Nieves attended a citizenship information session.
A legal resident herself for a decade, the Moreno Valley resident said she has avoided federal aid for fear that it could one day hurt her own citizenship application. The administrations move might not affect her, but she believes it will hurt other low-income immigrants. “Many families dont have enough to eat,” Nieves, 55, said Sunday in downtown Perris. “If they take away food assistance, can you imagine?”
Across California and nationwide, pro-immigrant advocates on Monday condemned the proposal released Saturday, calling it an attack on immigrant families and a way to curb legal, family-based migration. Others support the idea, saying U.S. taxpayers shouldnt have to foot the bill for new arrivals.
The government said the new rule could affect about 382,000 people a year. But advocates fear many more might avoid seeking assistance for food, housing and medical care, even for their U.S. born children, for fear of losing their shot at a green card.
“Making families decide between permanent immigration status or ensuring their families have enough to eat is an astonishingly cynical and heartless attack on families for political reasons,” said Jeanne Atkinson, executive director of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
The proposal is expected to go through a 60-day review and public comment process once it is published in the Federal Register.
The law will “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers,” D.H.S. Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.
The administration is looking to change the definition of what constitutes a “public charge,” looking to ensure that new residents are not a burden to taxpayers now or in the future.
The 447-page rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security would replace and expand a Clinton era memo from 1999 that states applicants must be “primarily dependent on the government” through cash aid, such as Supplemental Security Income, to be considered a public charge. Instead, non-cash benefits could lead to disqualification, including Medicaid, (with some exceptions,) Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits, food assistance (once known as food stamps) and help with housing costs, including Section 8 housing vouchers.
Any one use of these benefits for a short period does not automatically make someone a “public charge.” Instead, the government has set up a complicated rubric that also takes into account numerous factors besides income and the use of public services, including whether the applicant has a large family or a health condition but no health insurance.
Supporters argue that the proposed rules are nothing new.
“This is a basic principle of American immigration law. We shouldnt allow people to move here who cant pay their own bills,” said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower migration levels to the United States.
“One of the first laws passed on immigration…. was to prevent the immigration of people who would be a burden.”
But not all public benefits are included included in the proposed rule. Government aid that could still be used without affecting an immigrants application includes emergency medical assistance, school lunch and breakfast programs and foster care and adoption, according to an analysis by CLINIC, the Catholic legal group that supports immigrants.
The proposed rule also exempts refugees and those with asylum status, as well as current green card holders, otherwise known as legal permanent residents.
Los Angeles immigration attorney Ally Bolour warned that if the administration “rams this through” without considering public input, the government is opening itself up for a lawsuit.
“Theyre already making changes and looking to codify them,” said Bolour, who serves on the board of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The new rules could be felt widely in Southern California.
“Los Angeles communities stand to be hit the hardest by this change,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a prepared statement.
“Hundreds of thousands of our neighbors may be unable to see their doctors, keep a roof over their heads, or afford a trip to the grocery store if they wish to remain in the United States,” Garcetti said. “That is simply wrong and un-American, and leaders in this city and across our country will fight tooth and nail to keep this anti-family policy off the books.”
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis plans to raise the issue at a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Sept. 25
Meanwhile, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement: “California doesnt intend to backslide; we will do what we must to challenge this reckless proposal.”
Many immigrant-rights and civil rights advocates see this latest plan from the Department of Homeland Security as part of a broader Trump push to limit who comes into the country.
“Whether it is the Muslim Ban, the border wall, family separations at the border, or a historically-low refugee cap, this administration is using every means at its disposal to block the entry of those who — like Donald Trumps own ancestors — seek a better life in our nation, said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Krikorian, of the Center for Immigration Studies, disagrees.
“Public services come from tax money. Nobody has a claim to that, especially someone who is not an American citizen.”