SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The Trump administration announced a new rule Monday that could dramatically impact immigrants receiving government assistance. Local immigrant advocates responded to the regulation on Tuesday, saying it ‘favors wealthy individuals over working families.’
The ‘public charge’ rule would cut the number of legal immigrants allowed to enter and stay in the U.S. by making it easier to reject green card and visa applicants, if they’re currently receiving or will likely receive public benefits (such as food stamps or Medicaid) in the future.
“We are already seeing the chilling effect of this proposed rule, as it discourages families from applying for benefits for which their U.S. citizen children are eligible and that they require for their well-being,” said Luis Garza, Executive Director for Comunidades Unidas. “We forget that immigrants, including the undocumented, are paying taxes to support these public programs. Families should not have to make a decision between healthcare or food for their children and permanent residency.”
Ken Cuccinnelli, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, made the announcement from the White House Monday. According to ABC News, he pushed back against allegations that the administration was purposely trying to limit access to poorer immigrants. He said it would focus on whether an individual is ‘self-sufficient.’
“If people are not able to be self-sufficient then, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident,” he said Monday. “A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient. Many have been through the history of this country. So let’s not look at that as the ‘be all and end-all.’ It’s not the deciding factor, which is why we continue to use the totality of circumstances test.”
Gina Cornia with Utahns Against Hunger said one in nine households in Utah struggles to afford enough food.
“These kinds of policy changes make it that much more difficult for families who need help to access programs. It is unacceptable that families are being discouraged from applying for federal programs like SNAP to which they are entitled,” said Cornia.
Diane Yentel, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, countered that the rule would target immigrants of color and widen racial disparities.
“Immigrants already face significant barriers to securing affordable homes, from racism and discrimination to language or education barriers,” she said. “The public charge rule will exacerbate these challenges and put affordable homes further out of reach.”
As a result of the change in the public charge rule, officials with Comunidades Unidas and Utahns Against Hunger said they have joined the National Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign in order to inform communities about their rights and fight back against the new policy.
“We call on Utah elected officials to stand alongside immigrant families and denounce this attack on the health and prosperity of our communities,” said Garza.
While the rule doesn’t apply to those seeking asylum, the restrictions will affect anyone receiving a single type of assistance for 12 months in a three-year period. But receiving more than one benefit shortens that period even more.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus said in a statement that the new rule will cause fear in immigrant communities and could lead to immigrant families going hungry or becoming homeless.
“This is a really radical, radical plan to reshape immigration in the U.S.,” said Phil Wolgin with the Center for American Progress. “Trump keeps saying he wants legal immigration and yet this penalizes legal immigrants who have done everything right, waited in line.”
Meanwhile, Garza said there is already fear being invoked in immigrant communities after the recent mass shootings that targeted people of Mexican heritage.
“This comes out in a time when they are already feeling afraid and targeted. We also had the raids happening in Mississippi, and then this comes out right in the middle of all of this. It’s very clear that this is aligned with the anti-immigrant agenda that this administration has had from day one,” he said.
ABC News reports the National Immigrant Law Center announced it will file a lawsuit against the policy.
“As a leading national organization fighting to advance and defend the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants, we will fight with every tool we have available to ensure that everyone in our communities has the freedom to thrive and the necessary resources to do so,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, in a statement.
“We look forward to seeing Trump in court — again — and to seeing justice prevail as we defend immigrant families and our democracy,” Hincapié added.