A Trump administration initiative that’d brand some immigrants “public charges” is provoking harsh reactions from across the country.
The Department of Homeland Security, which is nearing the end of its public comment phase, would make it more difficult for some migrants to renew visas or receive authorization to reside in the United States. Under its revised criteria, officials would have more leeway to remove individuals and families expected to become reliant on welfare or other forms of federal assistance.
Critics of the new rule say the guidelines give too much leeway to what constitutes a public charge, prompting needy families to abandon Medicare and forgo their children’s health to remain in the United States.
On Monday, the mayors of cities as distant as Dallas and Cleveland asked the government to reconsider.
According to Dallas News, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called for an overhaul of the ‘public charge’ test, saying it could have a ‘deleterious effect’ on the city’s immigrant community and economy.
Writing to Washington on behalf of the city, Rawlings admitted that immigration laws are “largely the domain of the federal government.” But, Rawlings claims, any change in the way public benefits are administered could affect “many thousands” of people. Immigrants could be driven away from “accessing health care, nutrition, housing assistance, and other supports that makes families and our city as a whole healthier and stronger.”
The consequence for Dallas could be local groups being “forced to shoulder the cost of addressing the harm caused by this rule and of its negative economic impacts on Dallas residents.”
Rawlings’ pleas echo those made by Baltimore, which says immigrants’ abandonment of federal programs is proving a significant drain on city funds and state resources.
Vox reports that over 150,000 comments on the Department of Homeland Security’s proposal have already been received—a number far exceeding what might ordinarily be expected for a lengthy regulatory document. While Vox supposes most of the feedback comes from ‘outraged’ activists, the website also seeks to provide an explanation for the widespread ire. Under contemporary policy, immigration officials do retain the right to reject visa applications and renewals for proving a drain on public benefits.
But Vox says the current definition of what makes a ‘public charge’ is sufficiently narrow that applications are ‘rarely’ rejected on its grounds.
The Trump administration’s initiative would have the effect of practically eliminating some forms of “family-based immigration from lower-income, less educated people in countries like China, Mexico, and Cuba.”
The effect most advocates have been worried about is the atmosphere of uncertainty it creates for immigrants already in the United States. Past renditions of the proposal suggested that Obamacare recipients—among others—would have their green cards restricted, revoked or made inadmissible for renewals under the public charge exception.
Vox notes that potentially millions of immigrants could be barred from admission to the United States if the rule goes forward in its current form, or a slightly altered one.
While the Department of Homeland Security is bound to respond to compelling statements made by members of the public, it doesn’t actually have to change the content or core of its proposal. It may take several months for a rule to be released—and until then, cities like Dallas, Cleveland and Baltimore will be left paying for the Trump administration’s inability to convey its intent to immigrants clearly.