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“Public Charge” Rule Would Stigmatize Poverty, Harm Families

September 24, 2018

Over the weekend, the Trump administration unveiled its long-threatened “public charge” regulation, a cruel escalation in its assault on immigrant families that aims to exclude many immigrants on the basis of poverty and ill health. Dramatically expanding the definition of who counts as a potential “public charge” under federal regulations, the new rule would deny many legal immigrants the ability to enter or stay in the United States if they are low-income, have health conditions, or have accessed a range of public benefits.

In a joint response by national-level faith leaders in the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, UUSC’s President and CEO Rev. Mary Katherine Morn described the new regulation as “another blatant attempt to rob immigrants of color of their dignity and right to live in safety.”

The regulation lists using the food stamps program, Medicaid, Section 8 housing vouchers, and other vital and widely-accessed social services as factors that will be “heavily weighed” against immigrants applying for admission or permanent residency in the United States.

“This regulation makes it a punishable offense for immigrants to use public benefits that are enjoyed by most other members of our society. Accessing the economic and social prerequisites of a dignified life should never be grounds for stigmatizing or excluding people, but a right common to all.” – Mary Katherine Morn, UUSC President and CEO

The new regulation is in line with the President’s derogatory and racist remarks about immigrants of color and people from the developing world. While pandering to false stereotypes about people who rely on federal programs to survive (often while working jobs that fail to pay a living wage), it ignores the countless ways in which wealthy and powerful people in the United States benefit from taxpayer subsidies.

Moreover, the new regulation ignores the fact that Congress has already made it extremely difficult for noncitizens to access most federal assistance. The people most directly affected by this regulation are therefore unlikely to have access to public benefits in the first place. However, many people—including family members of permanent residents and U.S. citizens—may be excluded by the rule’s provision that suffering from health conditions such as cancer and heart disease, earning a low income, and being unable to afford unsubsidized health insurance will all be counted against immigrants in applying for the right to stay.

While less extreme in its final form than some of the draft versions leaked over the past year, Saturday’s proposed rule is nonetheless estimated to affect more than 300,000 immigrants each year. Moreover, it is widely expected to have a chilling effect on immigrants’ access to public benefits even beyond the people it immediately harms, as it may lead many to fear that accessing public benefits will jeopardize their ability to remain in the country, even if they would not actually be excluded under the new rule.

DHS has so far released only an “unofficial” draft of the regulation; the official version is expected to be published shortly in the Federal Register. Once it goes live, the public will have 60 days to comment on the regulation. UUSC will join our partners and allies in registering our opposition to this latest effort to stigmatize and harm vulnerable members of our society. Stay tuned for details as this issue unfolds in the public eye.

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