Ad­vo­cates: Rule change harms le­gal im­mi­grants

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion move on pub­lic ben­e­fits ‘up­ends en­tire sys­tem’

The Detroit News - - News - Detroit News staff and wire re­ports

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates in Michi­gan are protest­ing a pro­posed rule amend­ment an­nounced by the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity that would re­quire im­mi­grants to not rely on pub­lic ben­e­fits, say­ing the change will cause an un­due bur­den on fam­i­lies who are al­ready here.

The fed­eral rule change would make fam­ily in­come and po­ten­tial use of health care, nu­tri­tion or hous­ing pro­grams a cen­tral con­sid­er­a­tion, likely re­sult­ing in the de­nial of green cards and visas to hun­dreds of thou­sands of oth­er­wise el­i­gi­ble ap­pli­cants, the groups ar­gued


“(It) up­ends the en­tire sys­tem, de­signed to harm im­mi­grants by cre­at­ing fear and height­en­ing re­quire­ments for pub­lic as­sis­tance,” said Su­san Reed, manag­ing at­tor­ney for the Michi­gan Im­mi­grant Rights Cen­ter. “It’s like climb­ing Mount Ever­est.”

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity says the re­vised rule would al­low im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials to look at whether a per­son ap­ply­ing to stay in the U.S. could end up a “pub­lic charge” in the fu­ture and deny them green cards based on this.

“Un­der long-stand­ing fed­eral law, those seek­ing to im­mi­grate to the United States must show they can sup­port them­selves fi­nan­cially,” DHS Sec­re­tary Kirst­jen Nielsen said in a re­lease is­sued last month. “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.”

The pro­posed rule was of­fi­cially pub­lished in the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter on Wed­nes­day, kick­ing off a 60-day pub­lic com­ment pe­riod. If the rule is en­acted, it would take ef­fect 60 days af­ter that.

Un­til now, the guide­lines in use since 1999 re­ferred to some­one pri­mar­ily de­pen­dent on cash as­sis­tance, in­come main­te­nance or gov­ern­ment sup­port for long-term in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion.

The De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity wants to re­de­fine a “pub­lic charge” as some­one who is likely to re­ceive pub­lic ben­e­fits at any time. And the def­i­ni­tion has been broad­ened to in­clude SNAP or food as­sis­tance, Med­i­caid, hous­ing as­sis­tance or sub­si­dies for Medi­care Part D.

Refugees or asy­lum seek­ers would be ex­empt, and the rule would not be ap­plied retroac­tively, the gov­ern­ment said.

An aver­age 544,000 peo­ple ap­ply an­nu­ally for a green card, with about 382,000 fall­ing into cat­e­gories that would be sub­ject to this re­view, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment.

The re­vised rule “seeks to bet­ter en­sure that ap­pli­cants for ad­mis­sion

to the United States ... are self­suf­fi­cient, i.e., do not de­pend on pub­lic re­sources to meet their needs, but rather rely on their own ca­pa­bil­i­ties and the re­sources of their fam­ily, spon­sor and pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tions,” the pro­posal said.

“It’s a con­tin­u­a­tion of mean poli­cies af­fect­ing im­mi­grants — from build­ing walls to sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies, de­tain­ing chil­dren, call­ing Mex­i­cans rapists, ban­ning Mus­lims,” said Has­san Jaber, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arab Com­mu­nity Cen­ter for Eco­nomic and So­cial Ser­vices (AC­CESS). “It’s an at­tack on fam­ily-based im­mi­gra­tion, an as­sault on our his­tory as a coun­try of im­mi­grants.”

In gen­eral, im­mi­grants are a small por­tion of those re­ceiv­ing pub­lic ben­e­fits. For ex­am­ple, non-cit­i­zen im­mi­grants make up only 6.5 per­cent of all those par- tic­i­pat­ing in Med­i­caid. More than 87 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants are na­tive-born. The same goes for food as­sis­tance, where im­mi­grants make up only 8.8 per­cent of re­cip­i­ents, and over 85 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants are na­tive­born.

Also par­tic­i­pat­ing speak­ing out against the pro­posal Thurs­day were the Michi­gan League for Pub­lic Pol­icy, the African Bu­reau of Im­mi­gra­tion & So­cial Af­fairs, Michi­gan United, the Kala­ma­zoo Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion and the Detroit His­panic De­vel­op­ment Corp.

“(The rule change) would force many im­mi­grants to choose be­tween ac­cess­ing es­sen­tial pub­lic ser­vices and keep­ing their fam­i­lies to­gether,” said Cindy Bam­boa, com­mu­nity or­ga­niz­ing and ad­vo­cacy di­rec­tor of the DHDC.

Even peo­ple here legally are “plagued with ram­i­fi­ca­tions of anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment,” she said.


Pho­tos by David Gu­ral­nick / The Detroit News

The tree house, in the cor­ner of the back yard, al­lows any­one in there to peer into the neigh­bors’ yards.

Alex Bran­don / AP

Ac­tivists protest Wed­nes­day dur­ing a hear­ing of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Home­land Se­cu­rity & Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs dis­cussing im­mi­gra­tion.

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