President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed regulations that could prevent applicants who currently accept noncash benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing benefits, from receiving green cards.
Under the administration’s new proposal — which was released to the public on Sept. 21 — the Department of Homeland Security would require immigration caseworkers to strongly consider a wider range of government benefits in deciding whether an applicant should obtain a green card. Green cards allow foreign nationals to live and work in the U.S as lawful permanent residents. The Trump administration predicts the change will affect roughly 382,000 people per year nationwide.
“This rule change, if approved, will have disastrous effects on public health, hunger and poverty in the United States,” said Megan Fountain ’07, a volunteer community organizer with Unidad Latina en Acción, a grassroots immigrant-rights group. “If the rule goes into effect, immigrants who are lawfully present and 100 percent eligible for health insurance, food stamps and housing assistance may go without healthcare, food and safe housing … Trump wants to increase disease, hunger and homelessness in the United States.”
Although the proposal does not require congressional approval, the document is open for public comment from politicians, interest groups and constituents until Nov. 19 — 60 days after it was published.
Currently, the legal guidelines surrounding the evaluation of green card applicants are enumerated in federal guidance issued by the Clinton administration in 1999.
The 1999 guidance requires immigration caseworkers to consider whether green card applicants would receive only direct cash benefits. If the applicant was set to receive cash benefits — such as income subsidies or institutionalized long-term care — those benefits could be considered a public charge by the Department of Homeland Security.
Yet, under the Trump administration’s proposal, even those who are likely to receive noncash benefits from the government — such as subsidized health care and financial assistance to purchase food — may not be able to receive green cards.
“This proposed rule would improve upon the 1999 Interim Field Guidance by removing the artificial distinction between cash and noncash benefits,” the proposal reads.
The proposal also states that a green card applicant may be required to provide cash bonds of at least $10,000 to guarantee a successful application.
“The Trump Administration’s effort to restrict immigrants’ access to public assistance programs will hurt some of the most vulnerable people in our country,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, said in a Sept. 24 statement. “Make no mistake, this rule change will consign lawful residents to be second-class citizens.”
New Haven residents and local college students have participated in demonstrations in support of immigrant rights over the past two years. Recently, ULA has organized rallies on behalf of Nelson Pinos Gonzalez, an undocumented Ecuadorian immigrant and New Haven resident who, facing deportation, has been forced to take refuge at First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in the Elm City. In 2011, ICE’s then-director John Morton issued a memo directing officers not to enforce deportation orders in “sensitive locations,” such as houses of worship, schools and hospitals.
In an interview with the News, Ann O’Brien, Director of Community Engagement at Integrated Immigrant and Refugee Services said multiple Connecticut state representatives have reached out to support IRIS’s efforts to advise prospective green card applicants.
“It creates an absolutely unbearable choice,” O’Brien said. “Even though they are hardworking and trying to be self-sufficient, for some of them it may make them feel that they have to choose between having regular sources of food and jeopardizing their ability to get a green card.”
O’Brien added that those immigrating through the federal Refugee Act are exempt from the proposal.
Trump officials have defended the green card proposal, which they say promotes fiscal responsibility and is in line with the president’s immigration and protectionist platform.
“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement to Reuters. “This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, it is unclear how the policy will affect the more than 8 million children with at least one immigrant parent that received Medicaid or health care through the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Although the proposal is not intended to affect those who have already received a Green Card, many lobbyists and activists have voiced concerns that Green Card holders may still forego their right to receive noncash benefits from the government under the new policy.
Kara Hart, an immigration attorney at Hartford law firm Leete Kosto and Wizner, said that the proposal represents a shift in immigration policy from focusing on a sponsor’s ability to provide for the immigrant to focusing on the immigrant’s ability to provide for themselves as well. She worried that the proposal will segue into legislation that would endanger the status of permanent residents who receive state benefits.
“It is quite a significant shift,” Hart said. “Although the proposal doesn’t affect people who are permanent residents, the administration has basically announced intentions to deal with [removing permanent residents receiving state benefits] at a later date.”
High-profile immigration attorneys, including California attorney general Xavier Becerra, are weighing the prospect of a legal challenge to the proposal, and Los Angeles city officials are preparing a written opposition to the proposal, according to the LA Times.
“The Trump administration’s proposal punishes hardworking immigrant families — even targeting children who are citizens — for utilizing programs that provide basic nutrition and healthcare,” Becerra said in a public statement.
Hart stressed that while the proposal’s content might invite legal challenges like Becerra’s potential action, the Department of Homeland Security has not broken legislative procedure in pushing the proposal forward.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over 19 million children live in a family with an immigrant parent, and nearly nine in 10 of these children are citizens.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org