Broad fightback launched against new Trump administration public charge rules
The Trump administration wants to scratch the words, "Give me your tired, your poor..." from the Statue of Liberty and replace them with words telling people they are welcome only if they have money and plenty of skills. | AP

Immigration rights, public health, labor, faith-based and other public service organizations are launching an intensive fightback to defeat the Trump administration’s new Public Charge regulations aimed at greatly restricting poor immigrants’ access to permanent legal status in the U.S., which were formally announced Aug. 12.

“This policy denies a permanent, secure future in this country to anyone who isn’t white and wealthy,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, as she announced the center will sue against the new regulations.

The National Immigration Law Center is a lead organization in the Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition of over 300 hundred organizations actively engaging in the fightback.

Hincapié called the rule changes “a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: you are not welcome here.”

Protecting Immigrant Families is offering an updated fact sheet on public charge.

The new policy, first leaked to the press early in the Trump administration and formally opened for public comment last October, would greatly tighten criteria in effect for over a century, that say the federal government can deny someone admission to the U.S., or lawful permanent residence (“green card” status) to someone likely to become dependent on the government for their main support – in other words, more likely to become a “public charge”.

Before, only people primarily depending on cash assistance like Supplemental Social Security (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and comparable state or local programs – or government-funded long-term institutional care – were considered a public charge. Essential health care and nutrition programs weren’t included in that list, while other factors such as age, income, education and whether a sponsor promised support could help offset negative marks.

The new regulations add to the list programs that help people meet basic needs, like Medicaid (with some exceptions), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or “food stamps”), and public housing including low-income Section 8 vouchers and project-based Section 8. Receiving such programs for 12 months out of 36 would be a heavily negative factor.

When overall factors such as income, age, education, health, and skills are considered, economic status weighs heavily, analysts told a webinar presented by Protecting Immigrant Families. Annual incomes below 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (about $32,000 for a family of four) are seen as negative while incomes over 250 percent – higher than the median income for all U.S. households – are positive. Being under 18 or over 61 is negative; having private, unsubsidized health coverage is positive.

Refugees, asylees, survivors of domestic violence and some other protected groups wouldn’t be subject to the “public charge” decisions, and they would not apply to green card holders applying for U.S. citizenship. Only benefits received by an individual applicant matter – benefits received by family members are not counted.

The new rules don’t become effective until Oct. 15, so using any of the newly listed programs before that date will not count.

During the two-month public comment period that ended last December, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security received some 266,000 comments, with a large majority opposing the new regulations.

After the Aug. 12 announcement, two California counties, San Francisco and Santa Clara, were the first to sue. They called for a temporary injunction because, they said, the rule harms “critical public health and safety-net systems, is arbitrary and capricious, flouts federal law,” and tries to take over Congressional authority by administratively repealing Congress’ “longstanding family-based immigration system.”

Next came a lawsuit filed by Washington state Attorney General Robert Ferguson, a Democrat, on behalf of 13 states, including Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Rhode Island. Washington Governor Jay Inslee, running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, declared that his state will always stand with immigrants, and no action of the Trump administration can change that.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has already filed repeated suits to block executive actions or policy changes by the administration, said in a statement that the new rule would “harm our communities, schools, and workplaces by weaponizing essential healthcare, housing, and nutrition programs.” He cited harm to the state’s economy from shortages of construction, farm, childcare and healthcare workers, as well as disruptions affecting state public health, social services, housing, and educational programs. At this writing, Becerra’s plans had not yet been made public.

Meanwhile, California Governor Gavin Newsom called the policy “reckless … with widespread implications for our state’s health care, housing, and affordability.” He urged immigrant families to get qualified legal advice about the rule’s effect on them, and declared, “Our state will always stand by all Californians regardless of their immigration status.”

Calling the rule “extremely confusing,” Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, said he worries that patients will avoid needed medical care out of fear they would be labeled a “public charge,” and warned of possible public health consequences in a city where millions of people live very close to each other.

Typical of views expressed by many health, education and human services organizations was the Aug. 12 statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which urged the Trump administration to “reverse this public charge final rule, which will not only carry serious consequences for the children and families impacted, but also our country; we must support the health of all children if we are to reach our full potential as a nation.”

Leading the campaign in Congress against the new public charge rules is U.S. Representative Judy Chu, D-California, who in June introduced HR 3222, the No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act, which would bar use of any federal funds to implement the new rule.

As of Aug. 12, the bill had close to 40 co-sponsors, and organizations engaged in the fightback were urging people to press their legislators to sign on. Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, plans to introduce a similar measure when the Senate returns from recess.

In an Aug. 12 statement, Rep. Chu called the changes “motivated completely by racial animus” and said the result would be “more hunger and more sickness, all so Trump can add a new bigoted line to his campaign speeches.” Immigrants “work, pay taxes, shop in our communities and contribute to our economic growth,” she said. “We are better off because of the entrepreneurism, hard work, and diversity that immigrants bring to our economy. Look no further than California, which is majority-minority and thriving.”


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe para People's World desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.