By Michael Derek Roberts
In a serious blow to potential immigrants wanting to join their families in the United States, if the Trump Administration get its way, more than 382,000 will be denied family reunification Green Cards. Taking aim at immigrants living here who rely on public benefits for food, housing and medical care, the Administration’s new rules would in effect limit family-based “chain migration,” as the president calls it.
The administration said the Public Charge rule that was recently announced by the Department of Homeland Security would have a far greater chilling effect, leading current green card holders to stop using public benefits for fear of being deported. “Those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, adding that the new rule would “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
Immigration activists say that this new rule is one of several efforts by the Trump administration to further restrict legal immigration, including limits on those seeking green cards to immigrate to the U.S. and those already in the country on temporary visas trying to adjust and regularize their status to stay permanently. The danger here is that it does not need to be approved by Congress but faced a 60-day public review. Immigrant advocates and congressional Democrats have already vowed to fight the rule, and political observers said it was a factor in upcoming midterm election that will determined which party won control of the House of representatives.
“I see the Trump administration’s hostility towards immigrants as part of a strategy of mass distraction to keep the focus on fomenting outrage directed at Latinos while keeping the focus off of the corruption and graft that are gripping the White House and the GOP,” Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), chairman of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said in a statement.
“Self-sufficiency has been a basic principle of United States immigration law since this country’s earliest immigration statutes,” the nearly 500-page proposal states, insisting that “the availability of public benefits not constitute an incentive for immigration.”
Under federal law, those seeking green cards must prove they will not be a burden to the state, or a “public charge.” But the administration’s new public charge rule would require immigration officials to give added weight to an applicant’s potential dependency on public assistance. Officials would also have to consider certain medical conditions such as mental illness, cancer and heart disease as deciding factors because, according to the new rule, “an alien is at high risk of becoming a public charge if he or she has a medical condition and is unable to show evidence of unsubsidized health insurance.”
Elderly immigrants receiving discounted prescriptions through Medicare Part D could be forced to stop participating or lose their legal status. Applicants who don’t qualify for green cards under the new rule could be asked to pay cash bonds of at least $10,000 to avoid being rejected. Until now, someone has been considered a public charge if they rely on government cash assistance for more than half their income. Under the new rule, officials would have to take into account non-cash benefits, such as food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance and Medicare prescription drug programs.
Shawn Fremstad, senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress, said the rule would create a caste system that favors wealthy immigrants and hurts the working class from Mexico, South America and Asia.
“Historically, the public test was all about, can you work, will you work and do you have family here? Are you attached, say, married, to someone who will work? Now it’s about, will you work at a high enough wage level in a good job?” he said, which boils down to “are you going to be middle class?”
Those who pay bonds of $10,000 or more must live without a safety net, knowing an accident could land them in the hospital and force them to choose between receiving care or being deported. “You’re doomed to a sort of second-class citizenship,” Fremstad said. Nearly 20 million children in immigrant families could be affected by the new rule, most of them U.S. citizens, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation on a draft of the rule.
Of the 41.5 million immigrants living in the United States, 3.7% received cash benefits in 2013, and 22.7% accepted non-cash benefits including Medicaid, housing subsidies or home heating assistance, according to statistics compiled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The percentages of native-born Americans who get the same forms of assistance are nearly identical. In 2015, 3.4% of 270 million non-immigrant Americans received cash welfare payments, USCIS research found, and 22.1% received non-cash subsidies.
In a terse response to the Trump Administration protesting and condemning the new rule the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) wrote:
“We are writing as members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to express our strong opposition to your agency’s proposed rule concerning public charge determinations. The proposed rule would cause major harm to immigrants, their families, state and local governments, health care providers, and numerous other parties throughout the nation. Black immigrants, who comprise only 8.7 percent of all non-citizens, but are more likely to be impacted by the proposed rule, would be disproportionately injured. We therefore urge you to immediately withdraw this proposed rule in its entirety.”
Brooklyn Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-9th) recently held a packed public town hall meeting at Lenox Road Baptist Church in Brooklyn that is home to a large Caribbean immigrant community in her district.
“Now that this rule change seems imminent, it’s important that we know our rights, understand how it will affect our community, and share strategies to ensure that our families, congregations and communities are safe,” said Clarke.
The Brooklyn lawmaker explained that the Public Charge rule has been a statutory ground for inadmissibility for nearly 135 years; and that, generally, if deemed a public charge, anyone will not be allowed to become a permanent resident in the United States based on a number of criteria. However, Congresswoman Clarke noted that the new rule as set out by the Trump administration would greatly expand the list of government programs that could be used to block Caribbean and other immigrants from obtaining green cards and joining their families now resident in the United States. These include Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing benefits, Medicare Part D subsidies, and numerous other forms of government assistance and entitlement programs.