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Trump’s latest anti-immigrant policies harm families

Wmc Features Immigration Protest Fibonacci Blue 120718
Demonstrators in Minneapolis protest Trump immigration policies. Photo by Fibonacci Blue.

President Trump ends his second year in office by putting forward even more anti-immigrant policies, including new prohibitions on asylum seekers and drastic changes to the “public charge” rule, and with children still separated from their parents.

In September, the Trump administration proposed a broadening of the definition of “public charge,” making it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards or apply for asylum if they are deemed likely to need certain public benefits in the future. The deadline for public comment on this proposed rule is December 10. An 1882 law prohibits entry to the U.S. of “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge,” according to the Center for American Progress. While the current policy is to deny immigrants likely to need cash benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or government-funded institutionalized care, like a nursing home, the Trump administration’s proposal goes much further and would deny applicants who may use or need Medicaid, some Medicare subsidies, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or housing subsidies, and, according to the Center for American Progress report “Trump’s ‘Public Charge’ Rule Would Radically Change Legal Immigration,” people with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line or with medical conditions.

Yet even before it has been finalized, the “public charge” proposed rule is already having a negative impact. Many immigrants are already too frightened to access benefits that they are legally entitled to receive because they don’t want to jeopardize either their application for permanent residency or that of a family member. “This is a direct attack on our immigrant communities in a variety of ways — using public programs as a way to possibly deny immigrants green cards is one of the many reasons this is a dangerous proposal,” said Winn Periyasamy, policy analyst at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), a New York City–based anti-poverty policy and advocacy organization. Their partner agencies report that even just rumors and misinformation around this proposal have already led immigrant New Yorkers to decline use of their benefits. “There have been articles in ethnic newspapers urging their readers to stop using public benefits. There have been immigrants who are both at risk for and living with HIV/AIDS who are considering delaying treatment in case it affects their green card application. There have even been community members declining use of and participating in WIC, subsidized child care benefits, and even after-school programs — these are programs that are not even in the proposal but are critical to the health and well-being of women, children, and families.”

Advocates point out that this seems to be part of the Trump administration’s intention to cause fear around applying for benefits and to even encourage disenrollment. “…[I]f implemented [this rule] is also expected — and perhaps intended — to have a widespread chilling effect,” states the Fiscal Policy Institute’s report “Only Wealthy Immigrants Need Apply: How a Trump Rule’s Chilling Effect Will Harm the U.S.” “Even people who already have a green card, or who are exempt from the rule, such as refugees or asylees, are expected to be frightened and confused about the potential consequences of applying for food, health, and housing supports they are eligible to receive.”

However, if the rule is finalized and immigrants disenroll from or don't use their benefits, it will not only harm immigrant families and children, but economic losses will be felt around the country through ripple effects. “Withdrawal of SNAP funding means a reduction in spending in grocery stores and supermarkets,” states the Fiscal Policy Institute report. “When families lose health insurance, hospitals and doctors lose income. And some spending would be reduced in other areas as families struggle to pay food and health costs. Further, when businesses have less revenue, they lay off workers.”

Fears in immigrant communities about using benefits “have been around since January 2017, when a draft of the proposed rule around ‘public charge’ was first leaked,” said Anne Dunkelberg, associate director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a Texas-based public policy organization. “And there is already misinformation, confusion, and legitimate suspicions around immigration policies. The reality is that you have families with a mix of U.S. citizens and noncitizens, and if the U.S. citizens’ use of public benefits could jeopardize the noncitizens’ status, then they will forgo receiving them. But if people drop their food benefits, then kids show up at school hungry, food banks are overwhelmed, and there is a snowball impact at every level. And you can’t separate this from the high-profile attacks on immigrants, including the family separation policy. There is just a whole mixture of things where people who aren’t U.S. citizens feel under attack.”

And in November, the Trump administration issued a new policy barring asylum seekers who enter the U.S. anywhere except a port of entry, a policy that is illegal under U.S. law and a violation of U.S. international obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Although the policy has been temporarily blocked in the courts, with ports of entry often closed and a new practice of “metering” — limiting the number of people who can access ports of entry each day to just a few — thousands of asylum seekers are now indefinitely stuck in Mexico and along the border waiting for a chance to make their legal claims for asylum, according to Archi Pyati, chief of policy for the Tahirih Justice Center, a legal and social services organization for immigrant women and girls who are survivors of violence. 

“They are now huddling in open-air stadiums, subject to rain and cold, and exposed to illnesses. The conditions are inhumane,” said Pyati. “Survivors of violence are traumatized already, and the opportunity to be retraumatized via interactions with law enforcement and other migrants is significant. Especially vulnerable individuals include women, children, and lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals. For those who have experienced sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, trafficking, and other forms of gender-based violence, exposure to crowds, living in close proximity to unknown individuals, constant surveillance by armed guards, and unstable and insecure living conditions can be triggering and retraumatizing. Add to that the lack of access to trauma-informed mental and physical health care as well as a lack of legal information and advice, and you can see how the situation is especially harmful and dangerous for survivors of gender-based violence.”

Advocates are especially concerned about the plight of migrants coming from Central America, one of the most dangerous regions in the world for women and children. “Never before have we seen such a dramatic shift in polices impacting asylum seekers fleeing gender-based violence in such a short time,” said Pyati. “Congress did not authorize the building of a wall at the southern border, yet through legal decisions, policies such as family separation and prosecutions of asylum seekers, and inhumane treatment of families in detention, the administration is trying to keep all asylum seekers out. What is especially surprising is its bold-faced attack on women fleeing domestic violence. In the past, we would advocate with Republican and Democratic administrations for humane policies that also served public interests such as preventing terrorism, but we have never before seen an administration plainly condemn women who face abuse and death to a morbid fate.”

The public has until Monday, December 10, to comment on the proposed rule around “public charge.” For more information on submitting a comment, please visit the following websites: https://protectingimmigrantfamilies.org or https://www.ouramericanstory.us.

More articles by Category: Gender-based violence, Immigration
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