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Advocates remind immigrant families to empower themselves after ‘public charge’ rule change

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, after a briefing with news media at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on 12 August 2019. The Trump administration released a new rule which could make citizenship more difficult for immigrants who receive public assistance. ‘Our regulations prevent foreigners who may become a public charge from coming to the United States or staying here and obtaining a ‘green card,’ Cuccinelli said.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, after a briefing with news media at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, on 12 August 2019. The Trump administration released a new rule which could make citizenship more difficult for immigrants who receive public assistance. ‘Our regulations prevent foreigners who may become a public charge from coming to the United States or staying here and obtaining a ‘green card,’ Cuccinelli said. EFE

The Trump administration’s proposed change to the public charge rule for those wanting to obtain a green card has found no friends among pro-immigrant groups, health advocates and immigrants seeking the American dream.

“Trump is using his presidency to advance a hate-based, anti-immigrant agenda using every tactic possible: ICE raids, policy changes, rhetoric inciting violence, and more. American values are continuously being challenged by this administration and these new rules set a modern litmus test for immigrants while also creating a false narrative that negates the benefits and contributions that these communities offer our country,” said Mi Familia Vota in a statement.

“The White House is failing to bring constructive changes that would enable immigrants to adjust their immigration status and work for a better financial future. Instead, this administration is increasing the social and legal challenges that immigrants face solely to create a hostile environment for our communities.”

People seeking green cards have to prove they will not be a burden under federal law that dates back to 1882.

The new rules, which were announced on Monday (Aug. 12), could deny green cards to immigrants if they use Medicaid, food stamps, or other forms of public assistance. They restrict eligibility for lawful permanent residence based on a person’s use of government services, household income, education, and other criteria.

The changes take effect in October.

Health advocates, like Health Access California executive director Anthony Wright, believes harm will come from the change.

“This cruel attack isn’t just on immigrants, but our entire health care system leading to more uninsured, more people without primary and preventative care, more bad debt for hospitals and health providers, and less financially secure and healthy communities overall,” said Wright. “This rule is a nightmare scenario for public health.”

Wright said a health system “is strongest when everyone has access to primary and preventative care.”

“Erecting barriers to this care will result in more unnecessary illnesses and greater instability among our families and communities,” said Wright. “The loss of health care, food assistance, and other vital services impacts everyone, creating a poorer, sicker nation in which our neighbors cannot access the basics they need to take care of their families.”

Wright said that while the current administration is creating fear and anxiety, California as a state, “should continue to send a different signal and ensure that all those who call California home can get the care and help they need.”

The state’s Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly also issued a statement on Federal Public Charge Inadmissibility Rule.

The agency “opposes any changes to the federal public charge policy that would restrict access to vital social programs or that would require families across California to make an impossible choice between taking public assistance to meet their basic needs and their ability to stay together,” Ghaly said. “We are committed to building a California that is inclusive of all our neighbors.”

In the statement Ghaly reminds those immigrant families in California accessing critical social programs and services, to remember that the changes to the federal policy will not take effect until mid-October 2019.

“We are analyzing the changes and will issue further guidance. In the meantime, please contact an immigration attorney to determine if the changes would apply to you. The final rule would not apply to all immigrants or all government programs,” Ghaly said, adding that people can find a list of nonprofit organizations providing free legal immigration services at http://www.cdss.ca.gov/ImmigrationContractors.

“To those providers across California administering health and social services programs, this is the time for us all to come together and ensure that our doors are open even wider so that all eligible Californians have access to basic services,” Ghaly said. “Together we must work with local communities, as well as our public, private, faith, and educational partners to make California a healthy, vibrant, inclusive place to live, play, work, and learn.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom called the change “a reckless policy that targets the health and well-being of immigrant families and communities of color, with widespread implications for our state’s health care, housing and affordability.”

“We are actively reviewing the details to determine next steps, but for now, I remind immigrant families to empower themselves with qualified legal advice to understand whether the rule could affect them,” Newsom said. “Our state will always stand solidly behind all Californians regardless of their immigration status.”

According to Newsom, the 2019-20 state budget includes a total of $65 million ongoing to support qualified nonprofit organizations that provide a broad array of qualified immigration services. A list of immigration providers is available at http://www.cdss.ca.gov/Benefits-Services/More-Services/Immigration-Services/Immigration-Services-Contractors.

The Latino Coalition for a Healthy California also issued a statement opposing the change.

“We will rise up with our partners and allies and fight alongside our comunidad to ensure that this rule doesn’t go into full effect,” said the coalition.

Mi Familia Vota – which has operations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Texas – pledged to combat the “hate-based agenda.”

According to the statement, Mi Familia Vota had worked to oppose public charge rules and will continue its opposition.

“We will mobilize and saturate our community with relief and education efforts that include citizenship assistance for all who are eligible. We also won’t allow our communities to be denigrated; immigrants are a rich, valued segment of our population and we will continue to uplift their stories and enable them to use their power,” said the organization.

The chairs of the Congressional Tri-Caucus – Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Judy Chu, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Karen Bass, and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Joaquín Castro also spoke out against the rule.

“The Trump administration public charge rule is yet another attempt to generate fear and uncertainty in immigrant communities. The Administration is trying to portray this public charge rule as a way to enforce ‘self-sufficiency’ on immigrants and prevent them from becoming a ‘burden’ on our country,” Castro said. “The fact is that immigrant families are not a burden to the United States – their hard work and sacrifices built our country. Immigrants contribute billions to our economy and enrich our communities, working long hours to give their families a better life here in the United States. They’re just trying to pay the bills, keep a roof over their heads, and feed their children.”

Castro, the twin brother of Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro, said the U.S. wouldn’t be what it is today “without the contributions and sacrifices of immigrants who came to this country with nothing in their pockets.

“The Congressional Hispanic Caucus denounces this new rule, which is a thinly veiled excuse for a racially-motivated test to deny immigrants green cards based on their wealth,” Castro said. “We must stand by our American values and fight this rule in the courts until it is struck down,” said Castro. “The Trump administration cannot be allowed to use their power to create multiple barriers that intentionally make obtaining legal immigration status impossible.”

Reactions on social media from organizations in the Valley regarding the change:

María G. Ortiz-Briones: 559-441-6782, @TuValleTuSalud

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