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Immigration

The Democratic Mandate to Protect Immigrants Begins Now

Tuesday’s Democratic landslide will provide a belated but critical check on President Trump’s legislative agenda. Unfortunately, Trump still wields the vast power of the Executive Branch, and he’s using it right now to attack millions of families, and that means the fight for justice isn’t over, nor can it wait for Democrats to take over the House in January.

Trump has launched brutal attacks on families working low-wage jobs. He has ceaselessly endeavored to deny them health care, and calls for deep cuts to education, public safety, and meals on wheels funding, so he can shower the wealthy and corporations with yet more tax cuts. When the working-class families are immigrants, Trump is just as dishonest and even more savage. The latest onslaught by Trump’s bureaucratic deportation force is his biggest yet.

Only you can stop it. And only if you take action before December 10.

Trump rationalizes his broadsides against people of color as “tough” but necessary steps to secure our “nation of laws” and “defend our borders” from “violent immigrants” who “infest our country.” The administration’s new “public charge” regulatory proposal strips away the law-and-order façade, revealing Trump’s policies for what they are: offensives in a race war and a class war to define the American ideal as whiteness and wealth.

Formally proposed a few weeks ago, Trump’s public charge regulation would radically reshape our lawful immigration system, explicitly equating wealth with worth. Immigration applicants with income over $62,000 would be fast-tracked, while lower-income families will face new hurdles. Under Trump’s plan, immigrants would be denied permanent residency, and even citizenship for having disabilities, low-wage jobs, or even poor credit scores.

But it’s more insidious than that, because this attack doesn’t only target new applicants for admission. Like his denaturalization force, Trump’s public charge regulation targets immigrant families who have lived in, thrived in, and contributed to our country for decades. But while the administration’s denaturalization efforts have targeted thousands, public charge threatens millions.

Under the proposed regulation, immigrants would be penalized for using a wide range of public programs. Medicaid, Medicare’s prescription drug benefit, SNAP (formerly food stamps), “Section 8” housing subsidies, and other programs will all count as strikes against immigrants. The clear intent is to scare immigrants away from public programs designed to help families make it through tough times and build better lives. And it’s designed to punish immigrant families who take risks to meet their basic needs.

Trump’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services director, Lee Francis Cissna says its effect will be small, confined to the relatively small number of green card applicants who’ve used public programs. That’s a lie. Decades of research confirm what regular people have always known—that families rise or fall together. Children’s health is inextricably linked to their parents’ health, so parents scared away from the care they need will also be too scared to take their children to the pediatrician. That’s not my assessment, it’s the American Academy of Pediatrics’.

With respect to anti-hunger and anti-homelessness programs, the truth is even starker. Parents and children eat at the same table and sleep under the same roof. That’s why SNAP and Section 8 serve households, not individuals. So scaring immigrant parents away from those programs entails denying food and shelter to spouses and children—many of whom are U.S. citizens. Again, that’s not my take—that’s what the Food Research & Action Center and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty say.

The harm won’t be limited to immigrant families, either. A recent analysis by a Stanford public health expert and a Harvard economist shows that the impact would likely be much wider, affecting millions of families consisting entirely of U.S. citizens. They looked at how Latino families used SNAP and the Affordable Care Act in communities targeted by the Secure Communities intensive immigration enforcement initiative. In short, citizen-only families responded to anti-immigrant attacks out of concern for their extended networks—friends, grandparents, aunts, uncles—and reduced their use of public programs by as much as 30 percent. This isn’t an immigration policy. It’s a wholesale attack on people of color, citizen and immigrant alike.

The danger to the health and well-being of millions of people is real and extensive. The Manatt Health consulting firm calculates that the public charge rule’s “chilling effect” on health, hunger, poverty, and housing programs would reach 26 million people–roughly the population of Texas.

Even if the public charge rule wasn’t plainly racist, it would be worth resisting. America shouldn’t be a place where worth is measured by bank balances and credit scores. It shouldn’t be a place where people get blackballed for being born with a disability or for aging, or where hard-working families can’t feed their kids or take them to the doctor. America shouldn’t be a place where government works to make problems like hunger, homelessness, and unmet health needs worse.

But Trump can be stopped. Federal law requires that the Administration consider comments on the public charge proposal. Anyone can submit a public comment on proposed regulations, and the deadline for this one is December 10. Citizens, immigrants, organizations—everyone has a voice. Thousands of us have already used ours.

Democrats won’t take power until early January, but they are already throwing their weight around. They are threatening to condition their votes to fund the government on the inclusion of a rider to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller. They are telegraphing the focus of their coming oversight efforts. They can use similar leverage to resist the public charge rule, or eliminate it after it takes effect.

The election was a stunning rebuke of the Trump-GOP’s politics of racist incitement. Voters gave Democrats a mandate to protect people’s health care and hold Trump accountable, but also to stymie Trump’s abusive anti-immigrant agenda. They shouldn’t be allowed to forget that.

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