‘A hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment’

Lo­cal agen­cies: Fed­eral pol­icy change makes it harder for im­mi­grants to find se­cu­rity, fully con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ta­tiana Flow­ers

GREEN­WICH — Lo­cal agen­cies serv­ing im­mi­grants say a new rule an­nounced by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion mis­rep­re­sents im­mi­grants and will make it harder for them to find se­cu­rity and fully con­trib­ute to so­ci­ety.

Al­though Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has long cam­paigned on a prom­ise to crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, the new pol­icy tar­gets those seek­ing to en­ter or stay in the United States legally.

“I think it’s just over­all part of ful­fill­ing his cam­paign prom­ise, which is to limit im­mi­gra­tion and also to make it very dif­fi­cult or a hos­tile en­vi­ron­ment for those that are in the coun­try, to re­main in this coun­try,” said Alan Barry, com­mis­sioner of hu­man ser­vices in Green­wich. “I think what’s be­hind this is the in­fer­ence that th­ese are lazy peo­ple that are just tak­ing ad­van­tage of the sys­tem, and that’s not true. Th­ese are very hard­work­ing peo­ple do­ing their best to sup­port them­selves and their fam­i­lies, and th­ese ben­e­fits help them to be able to patch to­gether their abil­ity to do that.”

The new move, ef­fec­tive in mid­Oc­to­ber, was an­nounced Mon­day morning on the Fed­eral Reg­is­ter’s web­site, which pub­lishes the rules and reg­u­la­tions es­tab­lished by the ex­ec­u­tive branch of the fed­eral govern­ment.

“We want to see peo­ple com­ing to this coun­try who are self­suf­fi­cient,” said Act­ing Di­rec­tor of Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices Ken Cuc­cinelli. “That’s a core prin­ci­pal of the Amer­i­can dream. It’s deeply em­bed­ded in our his­tory, and par­tic­u­larly our his­tory re­lated to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.”

Im­me­di­ately af­ter the

no­tice was posted, im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates and so­cial ser­vices agen­cies jumped to con­demn the pol­icy, say­ing it will make it harder for le­gal im­mi­grants us­ing public ben­e­fits — such as Med­i­caid, food stamps or hous­ing vouch­ers — to ob­tain a green card or U.S. cit­i­zen­ship.

Lo­cal ad­vo­cates, like Barry, called the change “puni­tive” and “hos­tile” as it could force mil­lions of low­in­come im­mi­grants liv­ing in the U.S. legally to choose between ac­cept­ing as­sis­tance or a green card that al­lows them to seek per­ma­nent cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus.

Some state and na­tional lead­ers, in­clud­ing U.S. Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, DConn., ques­tioned the ef­fi­cacy of the pol­icy.

“Pres­i­dent Trump’s new rule isn’t about keep­ing our bor­ders se­cure or more ef­fi­cient govern­ment spend­ing – it’s about starv­ing chil­dren to ad­vance a xeno­pho­bic anti­im­mi­grant agenda,” he said in an email. “This deeply cruel pol­icy is de­spi­ca­ble. This rule be­trays ba­sic Amer­i­can val­ues, pro­mot­ing an an­ti­quated ‘pull yourself up your boot­straps’ men­tal­ity, even as Ken Cuc­cinelli steals the boots right off your feet.”

Lo­cal and state Repub­li­can Party lead­ers were con­tacted but could not be reached for com­ment for this story.

Since the an­nounce­ment, im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates and ser­vice providers have found them­selves in­un­dated with calls from the news me­dia and clients alike.

Ali­cia Kins­man, se­nior staff at­tor­ney for the Bridge­port­based Con­necti­cut In­sti­tute for Refugees and Im­mi­grants, said her phone has been ring­ing non­stop. Clients have been tex­ting, call­ing and email­ing her to ask the same ques­tion: How will this new pol­icy af­fect them?

“They’re ask­ing if they need to drop their ben­e­fits now,” she said. “Most of my clients are vic­tims of se­ri­ous crimes and they have hu­man­i­tar­ian visas. So, they’re ex­empt from the ‘public charge’ de­ter­mi­na­tion. So, this isn’t go­ing to change any­thing for them but that doesn’t make it any less scary. They’re ter­ri­fied and it’s con­fus­ing.”

Fed­eral law al­ready re­quires those seek­ing per­ma­nent res­i­dency to show that they won’t be a bur­den to the United States, also known as a “public charge,” but the new pol­icy de­tails new ways the govern­ment could dis­qual­ify them.

To de­ter­mine whether to grant green cards, Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices will now weigh public as­sis­tance along with other fac­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, house­hold in­come and health.

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates and so­cial ser­vices agen­cies fear govern­ment of­fi­cials will now have too much power and might deny per­ma­nent sta­tus to scores of peo­ple. While only doc­u­mented im­mi­grants are el­i­gi­ble for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, fed­er­ally or lo­cally, ser­vice providers, like Barry, fear the pol­icy will drive le­gal and un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants alike un­der­ground, forc­ing them to forego health care and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance, nec­es­sary for liv­ing healthy lives.

When news about the pro­posed pol­icy leaked last fall, the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity, which over­sees Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, re­ceived more than 265,000 public com­ments, more than triple the av­er­age num­ber. The de­part­ment made a se­ries of amend­ments, as a re­sult.

Since then, a num­ber of Kins­man’s clients have dropped their ben­e­fits or let them lapse, out of fear for their own safety, the CIRI at­tor­ney said.

“The main take­away for me is the hu­man­i­tar­ian im­pact, that fam­i­lies, whether or not they would ac­tu­ally be af­fected by the new rule, might drop crit­i­cal ben­e­fits or not seek them, be­cause of their fear,” Kins­man said. “The main tar­get, again, seeks to be law­ful im­mi­grants, those who are at­tempt­ing to nav­i­gate an al­ready com­plex le­gal process and now have yet an­other ob­sta­cle.”

Catalina Ho­rak, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at Build­ing One Com­mu­nity in Stam­ford, said she’s most wor­ried about the chil­dren whose par­ents who won’t ap­ply for free and re­duced­price lunch be­cause they mis­tak­enly think it’s a fed­eral pro­gram.

“Some of the par­ents might think ap­ply­ing for free and re­duced lunch, which is a state and city pro­gram, (might have some­thing) to do with the fed­eral pro­gram,” she said. “We’re wor­ried about fam­i­lies not ap­ply­ing for free and re­duced lunch, which are school pro­grams. That’s one thing that’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand and (there’s) a rip­ple ef­fect of this, as well.”

On Mon­day af­ter­noon, Ho­rak said she hadn’t heard much re­ac­tion about the new pol­icy from her im­mi­grant clients, who re­ceive work­force, lan­guage and le­gal ser­vices at Build­ing One Com­mu­nity.

“I think this re­quires a lit­tle bit of a level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion and ac­cess to the main­stream me­dia,” she said. “I think to­mor­row might be a dif­fer­ent day.”

Her clients’ con­cerns in­clude a feel­ing of be­ing un­wel­come and fear­ing for their safety, even in a city like Stam­ford that’s gen­er­ally “wel­com­ing” to im­mi­grants, Ho­rak said.

In a move planned be­fore know­ing the pol­icy would be posted, Ho­rak or­ga­nized a rally Mon­day evening at her fa­cil­ity that in­cluded im­mi­grants, state lead­ers — in­clud­ing Blu­men­thal, state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Tong, state Sen. Carlo Leone, D­Stam­ford, and state Reps. Matt Blu­men­thal and Caro­line Sim­mons, D­Stam­ford — and lo­cal stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing po­lice and school of­fi­cials. The dis­cus­sion fo­cused on ad­dress­ing fears and con­cerns of im­mi­grants and send­ing them a mes­sage that they’re sup­ported and wel­comed lo­cally.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

Act­ing Di­rec­tor of the U.S. Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices Ken Cuc­cinelli speaks dur­ing a brief­ing at the White House on Mon­day, in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

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