Las Vegas Sun

April 23, 2019

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Experts: Proposed public-charge rule would ‘punish’ immigrants for poverty

The Trump administration is expected to review input on a proposed rule that could be used against immigrants as they seek to change their status.

A possible expansion of the "public charge" rule would broaden its scope to hinder the immigration process for more residents who rely on public benefits such as food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers. The Department of Homeland Security received hundreds of thousands of comments on the proposed rule.

“With this rule, they’re essentially saying that noncitizens aren’t allowed to go through hard times,” said Paloma M. Guerrero, a student attorney at the UNLV Immigration Clinic. “And if they do, they’re going to punish them by eliminating eligibility for changing their status if they get any help.”

Guerrero said a series of community meetings, including one held at Three Square food bank, have sought to educate immigrants as the federal government considers the rule. Medicaid is one of the programs that the government is proposing to include in the new rule with some exceptions, such as for program enrollees with disabilities.

Groups are already starting to see people, especially those from families with a mix of immigration statuses, afraid to enroll in benefits or disenrolling altogether, Guerrero said.

“That’s the exact fear that noncitizens have, is the effect that it will have on either their case or somebody that they know,” Guerrero said.

University Legal Services Fellow Mayra Salinas said people should not take any action unless the rule becomes finalized. At that point, they should consider whether they want to continue receiving certain benefits, she said.

Salinas helps UNLV students, faculty, staff and their families, including some who are worried about whether a program they use will negatively impact their immigration case. The university’s clinic has stepped in to help immigrants impacted by certain federal immigration policies under President Donald Trump, such as the effort to end deportation protection for young immigrants under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“We’re seeing in our population at the university a lot of students on visas (who) want to adjust to become a permanent resident,” Salinas said of students asking for help over the possible public charge expansion. “That’s going to directly impact them.”

The government closed comments on the proposed rule on Dec. 10. Officials need to review the hundreds of thousands of comments received before proceeding to a possible final rule, which would take effect 60 days after ation, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

Salinas said that the government does not have to finalize the rule but that she fully expects officials to do so. About one in every 23 U.S. households had at least one “unauthorized immigrant” living there in 2016, according to recent Pew Research Center data.

Guerrero and Salinas said the rule would not only impact Hispanic immigrants, but Pacific Islanders and Asian Americans as well. Nevada has seen growth in both of those populations.

“It’s going to impact our community probably in a more acute way than you would see in other places across the country,” Salinas said.

The proposal would make the rule applicable to those extending current visas or changing visa types, such as from a student to an employment visa. The current guidance, in place since 1999, only applies to people seeking to enter the country legally, and those who are legally in the U.S. and are seeking a green card, according to a report by State Health and Value Strategies, a program run by staff at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Those labeled a public charge now are considered to be “primarily dependent” on public benefits. The new rule would expand that to anyone receiving at least one benefit, according to SHVS.

Supporters of Trump’s immigration reform efforts have said people living in the country illegally present a cost to the public. Immigration advocates say these residents pay taxes and infuse money into the local economy, without being eligible to receive benefits from programs such as Social Security.

“It’s like putting the cart before the horse,” Salinas said. “There’s just no compelling reason to change the rule now after being in place for so long and serving us well up to this point.”