Valley immigration groups make last push against proposed Trump public charge rule

Proposed rule for public charge causes fear and confusion

Mario Gonzalez, who overseas the immigration department at Centro La Familia, talks about the proposed rule for what would be considered a public charge.
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Mario Gonzalez, who overseas the immigration department at Centro La Familia, talks about the proposed rule for what would be considered a public charge.

Some Valley immigrant rights organizations are making a last push this week to remind the public time’s running out to voice their opinion on a controversial Trump administration proposal that would make it more difficult for people to obtain legal residency — if they are likely to receive government assistance.

Monday’s the last day for the public to comment on the proposed rule relating to public charge.

Public charge refers to an individual likely to become dependent on the government for subsistence — demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The proposed public charge rule began to stir fear and confusion among immigrants and advocates earlier this fall. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most public benefits, but they worry the few benefits they are able to obtain would jeopardize their chances of getting permanent legal residency.

At the same time, immigrants who are already in the country legally are thinking twice about applying for benefits they are entitled to due to fear.

The federal government in October opened a 60-day period to collect public comment on the matter.

As of late Wednesday night, the federal government had received 139,612 public comments on the proposed public charge rule. It’s unclear thus far how many comments are for or against the proposal.

While the proposal has gained support from fiscal conservatives who say the U.S. should not have to support individuals coming into the country, immigrant rights groups say it’s another attack on the community members they serve.

“Immigrants matter in this country,” said Maricela Gutierrez, executive director of Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN). “It’s a time to uplift and empower our community, not relegate them to be left without resources and basic human rights.”

SIREN has collected over 600 comments in the Valley and in Northern California, of which a majority were opposing the proposal, Gutierrez said. Her organization will continue to accept comments through Monday. They’ll even take statements in Spanish.

People are able to submit comments directly on the SIREN’s website, and they can be in Spanish. Gutierrez said the organization will translate them before they are sent to the federal government.

“I think they’ll see the power of the community’s voice,” Gutierrez said.

The proposed rule was published on the Federal Register on Oct. 10 when the government began accepting public comment.

Samuel Molina, state director with Mi Familia Vota, said the organization was reminding people via social media that they have a few more days to make a public comment.

Under the current policy, public benefits considered a public charge are mainly monetary assistance. The proposed rule adds food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) and prescriptions for the elderly to the list of services that would be viewed as a public charge.

Those being targeted under the proposal would be immigrants trying to come to the U.S. on visas and those already in the country hoping to get a green card, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in September. But Homeland Security told The Bee in October that this rule is mostly “prospective in nature” as many of those who would be scrutinized “are not generally eligible” to public assistance.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said people seeking to immigrate to the U.S. for years have been required to show they can support themselves financially.

“The Department takes seriously its responsibility to be transparent in its rulemaking and is welcoming public comment on the proposed rule,” Nielsen said in a statement. “This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

Eduardo Ramirez Castro, associate director of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Sustainable Rural Communities Project, said the federal government has a few options on how to move forward after the public comment period closes.

It can decide to publish a version of the rule, but if it goes with that option, it will have to address all the comments and issues raised in them, otherwise, that can open the potential for litigation.

It can also opt to not publish anything, or publish the rule exactly as proposed, but that also means taking into consideration all public comment, Castro said. The government could likely make a decision within 60 days after closing the public comment period.

CRLA Foundation held at least eight community presentations in Fresno, alone, Castro said. Some of them were with residents and others with service providers.

“We encourage any and all individuals who have an opinion, especially those who would be affected directly or know anyone directly affected,” he said. “It’s a pretty sweeping proposal... A county like Fresno, a region like the San Joaquin Valley has a lot of stake on this.”

Even if this proposal never made it into policy, work would be needed to clarify the complexities of the proposed rule that have already created a lot of fear and confusion, Castro said.

CRLA Foundation is aware of families that are eligible for benefits, but have chosen to terminate or under-utilize them as a result of the fear of how it might affect them, he said.

“The confusion had already been disseminated.”

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro
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