Immigrants with resources preferred
A rule issued last week via the Department of Homeland Security struck a nerve locally, as representatives from area food banks were quick to express disdain.
An overhaul of an immigration policy, the public charge rule, was issued by the Trump administration on Monday, Aug. 12, essentially serving to regulate legal immigrants' status on the basis of their resources. That rule is interpeted as giving preferential treatment to noncitizen immigrants who have more resources at their disposal, such as health insurance or a healthy savings.
Meanwhile, poorer immigrants who wish to apply for a green card are less likely to be granted one if their economic situation targets them as strong candidates for public assistance. Thatis assessed by enumerating a number of "positive factors" and juxtaposing them with "negative factors."
The "Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds" document reads:
"If the negative factors outweigh the positive factors, then the alien would be found to be inadmissible as likely to become a public charge; if the positive factors outweigh the negative factors, then the alien would not be found inadmissible as likely to become a public charge."
Examples of listed negative factors in the document include: a sketchy employment history; having previously received public aid; having a medical condition; being without medical insurance; previously deemed as inadmissible or deportable.
Examples of listed positive factors include: either strong employment or financial assets, resources and support amounting to at least 250% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.
Jeopardizing those in need
Critics of the rule fear that this aggressive wealth assessment will deter families who need help from seeking it.
Woodburn's AWARE Food Bank coordinator Gabby Pena sees such families on a daily basis.
"That is what we are affraid of; we don't want our community members to be victimized by this," Pena said.
"Our services are here for our public. We do have income requirements...but regardless of how this affects SNAP and regardless of the public charge rule, we are here to serve our community."
Pena is averse to the bullying tone of this type of governing.
"AWARE is here to serve and be a part of the whole community. Folks should be able to come here without fear – knowing that they will be treated well," Pena said. "But the current levels of fear experienced by immigrant communities means that folks who need food assistance don't feel safe getting it."
That sentiment was echoed throughout the region.
"We simply reject the administration's effort to criminalize immigrants. No family should have to decide between putting food on the table and securing long-term stability for themselves and their children," Oregon Food Bank CEO Susannah Morgan said. "But that's what will happen if this new rule from the Department of Homeland Security becomes law."
The rule's roots
U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli announced the public charge rule on Monday. The final rule was published in the Federal Register later in the week. It's scheduled to take effect on Oct. 15, barring any legal challenges.
Cuccinelli said the roots of this rule actually reach back decades.
"This is an implementation of a law passed by congress in 1996 that has not been given meaningful effect," he said. "In 1999 some guidance was put in place with the presumption that a rule would follow; the rule never followed. So today we are issuing a rule, which…really puts meaningful meat on the bones of the 1996 law passed on a bi-partisan basis."
A New York Times article, "Trump Policy Favors Wealthier Immigrants for Green Cards," asserted that the rule aims to encourage self-sufficient immigrants and discourage those who are not, reducing a drain on social services.
"The benefit to taxpayers is a long-term benefit of seeking to ensure that our immigration system is bringing people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system, especially in the age of the modern welfare state which is so expansive and expensive," Cuccinelli told the Times.
Oregon Food Bank Public Policy Advocate Jeff Kleen said when the public charge was proposed last fall, public input to the proposal drew more than a quarter million comments, and the overwhelming majority of them were from dissenters.
"The rule would punish legal immigrants if they receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by jeopardizing their ability to stay in the United States – even if they are qualified and eligible for SNAP benefits," Kleen said.
There are exceptions to the rule, including immigrants who already have green cards.
"Fortunately, not all immigrants will be impacted. There are some exclusions for refugees and others, and not all immigrants are seeking to obtain a green card -- and many already have green cards," Kleen said.
"That being said, the chilling effect could reach up to 433,000 Oregonians when considering non-citizens and their families, because through fear and confusion, people may dis-enroll both themselves and citizen family members from public assistance programs like SNAP," he added.
Kleen cited a Manatt report, "Public Charge Proposed Rule: Potentially Chilled Population Data Dashboard," which noted that: "Generally speaking, the proposed rule could lead to noncitizens opting to dis-enroll from, or forgo enrolling in, benefits for which they are eligible, such as Medicaid, food or housing benefits."
The Oregon Food Bank leader was more direct.
"This rule is just the latest in a series of attacks from this administration on immigrants of color and people experiencing hunger and poverty," Morgan said. "It would penalize people that utilize nutrition programs and other services that strengthen and support families and communities."
Oregon Department of Human Services Director Fariborz Pakseresht agreed.
"When people -- especially children and vulnerable adults -- go hungry, lack medical care, and become homeless the impacts are far reaching and expensive," Pakseresht said. "They are preventable and generate cost avoidance that can be refocused on other priorities that move our country forward."
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