Senator says proposed 'public charge' rule would let federal officials deny visas or green cards if applicants likely to rely on public benefits.

TIMES PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, center, prepares to hear from a panel of health care advocates at the Beaverton Wellness Center of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Foundation on Tuesday, Oct. 30. From left, Dr. Lisa Bozzetti, VG dental director; Dr. Chris Hill, VG associate medical director; Wyden; Gil Muñoz, VG chief executive for clinics; Serena Cruz, VG foundation executive director; Ketan Sampat, VG board treasurer.U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says he will resist a Trump administration proposal that could effectively disqualify many immigrants from entering this country or gaining permanent residency.

The Oregon Democrat made his comments Tuesday, Oct. 30, to a panel of health care advocates at Virginia Garcia after he met staff and patients at its new and larger location.

On Oct. 10, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule, known as "public charge," that would allow it to deny visas or green cards to immigrants deemed likely to rely on public benefits such as government-supported health care.

Nothing has taken effect; public comment closes on Dec. 10. But Gil Muñoz, chief executive officer of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, told Wyden it has already had a negative effect on patients.

"It has a chilling effect on their ability to obtain access to health and other services" at many of the 17 clinics and programs that Virginia Garcia runs in Washington and Yamhill counties, Muñoz said.

"We know that patients are more reluctant to come out to get services because of that climate of fear."

Nearly half of Virginia Garcia's patients are under age 21 — and though about half of the total are Hispanic, the Beaverton clinic serves people who speak more than 50 different languages.

Wyden said he got an understanding of the situation during a recent visit to a pharmacy in Southeast Portland, where he maintains a residence. He said he encountered a woman outside who was pacing back and forth, and who finally identified Wyden as a senator when he came back out.

As Wyden told it:

"She said she had a prescription in her hand for her child, who was sick, and she was trying to make up her mind. She said she wondered that if she went inside, whether they would put her name in a big machine — she was thinking about a database — and then they would know where she was and come to my house and deport her. Then her child would not have a parent.

"This is not some abstract issue," he added. "You have this fear in communities across this state. People should not have to worry about walking into a pharmacy and thinking somebody might get their name.

"To make so many families choose between what they need and the people they love is just not right."

Wyden is the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which writes health care financing legislation, though it has no jurisdiction over immigration.

TIMES PHOTO: PETER WONG - U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., listens to Serena Cruz, left, executive director of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Foundation, and Gil Mu?±oz, right, chief executive officer of Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, on Tuesday, Oct. 30, at its new Beaverton Wellness Center.Muñoz said about 20 percent of the patients who come to Virginia Garcia programs have no insurance, down from 45 percent before the Affordable Care Act took full effect in 2014. Under that 2010 law, popularly known as "Obamacare" after the president who signed it, more low-income people became eligible for insurance coverage in states such as Oregon that chose to expand Medicaid. In Oregon, the expansion added more than 300,000 to the Oregon Health Plan.

Enrollment in the Oregon Health Plan swelled to a peak of 1.1 million in spring 2016, then dropped by about 300,000 over the next year or so after officials tightened eligibility. The July 2018 total count was 963,773.

Others on the panel told Wyden that the proposed rule was one of the factors deterring people from obtaining needed care.

Cindy Noordijk, who spoke for Providence ElderPlace, said it was affecting the ability of caregiving agencies to retain workers.

Ricardo Palazuelos, a Forest Grove educator and vice chairman of the Virginia Garcia board, said he has seen patients putting off obtaining care until they develop serious illnesses — when they are more costly to treat.

"It's hard to coordinate care effectively when people fear to show up," said Jeremiah Rigsby, public policy and regulatory affairs manager for CareOregon, the largest provider of services for Oregon Health Plan patients.

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Wyden on Trump birthright revocation: 'Unbelievable'

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden termed "unbelievable" an assertion by Donald Trump that a stroke of the presidential pen could end birthright citizenship in the United States.

"Why don't we send a copy of the Constitution to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?" the Oregon Democrat said, referring to the address of the White House.

While the original Constitution does not mention it, the 14th Amendment ratified in 1868 specifies that people born or naturalized in the United States or under its jurisdiction are citizens, regardless of the status of their parents.

The post-Civil War amendment reversed an 1857 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that former slave Dred Scott could never be a citizen despite having lived in a free state and territory — and applied that ban on citizenship to all African Americans.

Most Southern states rejected it initially, but did so after Congress specified that a former state of the Confederacy must ratify it before it would seat its members.

— Peter Wong

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