Democrats Line Up Against Trump’s New Public-Charge Policies for Immigrants

October 14, 2018 Updated: October 14, 2018

The Trump administration’s decision to move forward with a long-awaited regulatory overhaul aimed at encouraging financial self-sufficiency among prospective immigrants to the United States is being met with opposition by Democrats, who characterize it as an attempt at “radically reshaping our legal immigration system.”

The plan consists of a move to enforce the largely ignored public-charge provisions of the nation’s immigration laws that require would-be immigrants to be able to support themselves without relying on government aid. The administration hopes to enact a new regulation in the form of a 183-page draft rule that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled on Sept. 21.

The agency formally triggered a 60-day public comment period by publishing the document in the Federal Register on Oct. 10. More than 7,000 public comments had been filed as of Oct. 14, according to the Regulations.gov website.

Relying on a confidential source close to the DHS rulemaking process, The Epoch Times reported on Sept. 9 that the proposed rule defining the phrase “public charge” under Section 212(a)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act was expected to be made public that month or soon after.

President Donald Trump is following through on a campaign promise. America’s immigration policies must promote “the well-being of the American people,” he said in August 2016.

“Our enforcement priorities will include removing criminals, gang members, security threats, visa overstays, public charges,” Trump said. He defined public charges as “those relying on public welfare or straining the safety net along with millions of recent illegal arrivals and overstays who’ve come here under this current corrupt administration.”

According to an analysis by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the federal government has long had the authority to “deny an individual entry into the U.S. or adjustment to legal permanent resident (LPR) status—i.e., a green card—if he or she is determined likely to become a public charge.”

Under the proposed regulation, “officials would newly consider the use of certain previously excluded programs, including Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy Program, and several housing programs, in public-charge determinations.”

This, in turn, would decrease participation in these taxpayer-funded programs, according to the analysis.

Depressing demand for public benefits is alarming to some.

A group of left-leaning federal lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and 21 Democratic senators, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Kamala Harris (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Cory Booker (N.J.), and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), filed a comment on the proposed regulation. They attacked the draft rule because, in their words, it would have a “serious chilling effect … on millions of hardworking families and children across this nation.” The rule, if finalized, “would mark a fundamental change from our nation’s historic commitment to welcoming immigrants, radically reshaping our legal immigration system.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors submitted a comment asserting the new regulation “would ultimately punish immigrants” and “force families to choose between the help they need and the people they love.” The letter was signed by 90 mayors, including Eric Garcetti (D) of Los Angeles, Bill de Blasio (D) of New York, Rahm Emanuel (D) of Chicago, Muriel Bowser (D) of Washington, Martin Walsh (D) of Boston, Libby Schaaf (D) of Oakland, California, and Ted Wheeler (D) of Portland, Oregon.

Garcetti separately filed a comment calling the regulation an “anti-family measure” that “would punish American-born children and penalize immigrants who work hard, pay taxes, and play by the rules.”

The rule, he wrote, “would not only increase the number of immigrants denied entry/green cards because of the likelihood that they would become dependent on government benefits, but it would also dissuade our nation’s most vulnerable individuals and families from seeking assistance for fear of denial of permanent residency and a path to citizenship.”

Sal Rosselli, president of the National Union of Healthcare Workers, filed a comment that called regulation an “attack on human dignity” that “reflects an anti-democratic gesture by the Trump administration, and is a gross violation of basic human rights to shelter, health, and food.”

The Trump administration says it is tying up loose ends.

Francis Cissna, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an agency within DHS, explained in August that the purpose of the rule was “not to reduce immigration or, in some diabolical fashion, shut the door on people or anything like that.

“The goal is simply to enforce a ground of inadmissibility to this country that’s been on the books for … more than 100 years.”

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