Trump pol­icy pits wel­fare ben­e­fits vs. path to cit­i­zen­ship

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is now on the clock to fi­nal­ize one of the big­gest changes to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy in a gen­er­a­tion, af­ter the of­fi­cial com­ment pe­riod ended last Mon­day on a plan to re­quire im­mi­grants to show they aren’t a pub­lic bur­den if they want to ex­tend their visas or get on the path to cit­i­zen­ship.

Im­mi­grant rights groups and other Trump op­po­nents mounted a fever­ish last-minute push to try to de­rail the pro­posal. They sub­mit­ted tens of thou­sands of com­ments call­ing the plan mis­guided and racist and warned that it would keep needy im­mi­grants from vis­it­ing doc­tors and leave chil­dren hun­gry be­cause their par­ents fear sign­ing them up for free school lunches, lest they lose their chance at cit­i­zen­ship.

The pres­i­dent’s back­ers said they ex­pect Mr. Trump and his team to fi­nal­ize the pro­posal. If any­thing, they said, it doesn’t go far enough to crack down on what ap­pears to be ram­pant wel­fare use by nonci­t­i­zens and their chil­dren.

“I think they’re go­ing to im­ple­ment them as is or with some tweaks. This is the kind of thing he was elected for,” said Steven A. Ca­marota, re­search direc­tor at the Cen­ter for Im­mi­gra­tion Stud­ies. “While there might be ad­vo­cacy groups that ob­ject to that idea, the fact is most Amer­i­cans think im­mi­grants should be self-suf­fi­cient, so I think they’re on pretty strong ground.”

The cen­ter re­leased a study this month cal­cu­lat­ing that a stag­ger­ing 63 per­cent of house­holds led by nonci­t­i­zens use at least one wel­fare pro­gram. The rate for house­holds led by na­tive-born Amer­i­cans is just 35 per­cent.

But un­der guide­lines es­tab­lished dur­ing the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion, the gov­ern­ment looks at only a nar­row set of cash as­sis­tance pro­grams when de­ter­min­ing whether an im­mi­grant is a pub­lic charge. Even then, it was rarely en­forced. The Wash­ing­ton Times re­ported in 2016 that of five ma­jor coun­tries for im­mi­gra­tion to the U.S., just three peo­ple were cited for be­ing pub­lic charges in the years from 2013 to 2015. Im­mi­gra­tion judges sus­tained just one of those cases.

The Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment’s pro­posal would add food stamps, pub­lic hous­ing and long-term in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized care to the list of po­ten­tial pub­lic charge grounds. Dis­as­ter relief, as­sis­tance to im­mi­grants serv­ing in the armed forces or their fam­i­lies, and emer­gency med­i­cal care would not count against an im­mi­grant.

The changes would save the gov­ern­ment nearly $20 bil­lion over the next decade, the ad­min­is­tra­tion cal­cu­lated, based on im­mi­grants it says would shy away from claim­ing ben­e­fits for fear of poi­son­ing their fu­ture sta­tus.

Rights groups said that was a cruel choice to force on im­mi­grants.

Sen. Ka­mala D. Har­ris and Rep. Nanette Diaz Bar­ra­gan, both Cal­i­for­nia Democrats, sub­mit­ted of­fi­cial com­ments last week call­ing the pro­posal “ex­treme fed­eral over­reach.”

“By propos­ing a rule that so clearly at­tacks im­mi­grant fam­i­lies and chil­dren, and which has al­ready fu­eled fear and con­fu­sion in our com­mu­ni­ties, the depart­ment is tak­ing an­other mis­guided step in ad­vanc­ing this ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cruel, anti-im­mi­grant agenda,” they wrote.

The Evan­gel­i­cal Im­mi­gra­tion Ta­ble, a coali­tion of Chris­tian ad­vo­cates, pre­dicted that some mar­ried cou­ples could suf­fer. One of the spouses could be de­nied a visa be­cause of their poor fi­nan­cial po­si­tion, and fam­i­lies with one par­ent who stays home to watch chil­dren could be bur­dened by hav­ing a lower in­come, the coali­tion said.

“Poli­cies that sep­a­rate or bar the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of fam­i­lies are deeply trou­bling,” the group said. “We be­lieve that all gov­ern­ment pol­icy — in­clud­ing im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy — should pro­mote the strength and unity of fam­i­lies wher­ever pos­si­ble.”

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity pro­posed the pub­lic charge rule in Oc­to­ber. As of last Mon­day morn­ing, more than 180,000 com­ments had been sub­mit­ted. The vast ma­jor­ity were from op­po­nents who blasted the over­all di­rec­tion of the pro­posal and called for it to be dropped, rather than of­fer­ing sug­ges­tions for tweaks.

Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials didn’t re­spond to ques­tions about the depart­ment’s plans or when a fi­nal rule might be is­sued.

In its of­fi­cial fil­ing, the depart­ment es­ti­mated that about 20 per­cent of nonci­t­i­zens re­ceive food stamps or pub­lic hous­ing as­sis­tance.

Mr. Ca­marota’s 63 per­cent fig­ure in­cludes other pro­grams such as tax cred­its or nutri­tion as­sis­tance un­der the Women, In­fants and Chil­dren pro­gram, and in­cludes house­holds where the chil­dren, who of­ten are cit­i­zens, re­ceive ben­e­fits such as Med­i­caid.

Those would not be tar­geted by the rule, nor would Amer­i­can par­ents who adopt spe­cial-needs chil­dren from over­seas and ap­ply for Med­i­caid ben­e­fits to help with their care.

Mil­i­tary fam­i­lies also would also be pe­nal­ized for us­ing ser­vices.

Im­mi­grant rights and pub­lic health ad­vo­cates said they have seen a “chill­ing ef­fect.”

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