Admin Crackdown on Immigrants Begins 02/25 06:21
PHOENIX (AP) -- Pastor Antonio Velasquez says that before the Trump
administration announced a crackdown on immigrants using government social
services, people lined up before sunrise outside a state office in a largely
Latino Phoenix neighborhood to sign up for food stamps and Medicaid.
"You had to arrive at 3 in the morning, and it might take you until the end
of the day," he said, pointing behind the office in the Maryvale neighborhood
to show how long the lines got.
But no one lined up one recent weekday morning, and there were just a
handful of people inside.
With new rules taking effect Monday that disqualify more people from green
cards if they use government benefits, droves of immigrants, including citizens
and legal residents, have dropped social services they or their children may be
entitled to out of fear they will be kicked out of the U.S., said Velazquez and
"This will bring more poverty, more homeless, more illness," said Velasquez,
a well-known leader among Spanish-speaking immigrants in the Phoenix area.
Advocates around the U.S. gathered Monday to discuss and criticize the
Participants at a New York City roundtable said that in anticipation of the
change, neighborhoods with higher immigrant populations had seen enrollment
declines in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and
Children, known as WIC. They also urged immigrants to get legal advice on how
they may be affected.
In Boston, the Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint said some Haitian immigrants worry
that accepting benefits could keep their relatives from coming to the U.S.
Bethany Li, of Greater Boston Legal Services, said Chinese families are
passing on WIC benefits not covered by the new rules.
The guidelines that aim to determine whether immigrants seeking legal
residency may become a government burden are part of the Trump administration's
broader effort to reduce immigration, particularly among poorer people.
The rules that critics say amount to a "wealth test" were set to take effect
in October but were delayed by legal challenges alleging a violation of due
process under the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court last month cleared the
way for the Trump administration to move forward while the rules were litigated
in the courts.
A 5-4 vote Friday by the high court sided with the Trump administration by
lifting a last injunction covering just Illinois, giving White House adviser
Stephen Miller and other hardliners a resounding win in one of their boldest
attempts to limit legal immigration.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a blistering dissent, criticizing the
administration for quickly turning to the Supreme Court after facing losses in
lower courts and suggesting that her conservative colleagues handled the
litigation inconsistently in their desire to give Trump a victory.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Saturday that the change
will "reestablish the fundamental legal principle that newcomers to our society
should be financially self-reliant and not dependent on the largess of United
Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, said Monday on
Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends" that the change is "not a moral judgment on
individuals, it is an economic one."
He said the government expects "people seeking to be long-term immigrants
here, and maybe join us as citizens, will be able to stand on their own two
feet." He said the rules were "a major priority for the president."
Federal law already requires those seeking permanent residency or legal
status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. --- a "public charge," in
government lingo. But the new rules include a wider range of programs that
could disqualify them, including using Medicaid, food stamps and housing
The chilling effect spreading through immigrant communities recalls how
millions of refugees dumped social services during the welfare changes of the
1990s, even though the legislation that prompted the cuts explicitly exempted
Nazanin Ash, Washington-based vice president for global policy and advocacy
for the nonprofit International Rescue Committee, pointed to research showing
some 37 percent of refugees exempted from the Clinton-era changes in welfare
benefits dropped food stamps they were entitled to.
Ash said the Trump administration rules would likely cause similar hardships
for immigrants who contribute to the American economy.
"To call them a burden on society is factually incorrect," she said.
The nonprofit Migration Policy Institute in Washington said in an August
policy paper that it expects "a significant share" of the nearly 23 million
noncitizens and U.S. citizens in immigrant families who use public benefits
will drop them.
Julia Gelatt, a senior policy analyst with the institute, said the
guidelines are so complicated that there have even been reports of parents
dropping their kids' free school lunches, which are not affected.
Gelatt noted that the rules apply only to social services used after Monday
and do not affect citizens or most green card holders. Refugees vetted by
federal agencies before their arrival, as well as people who obtain asylum, are
The guidelines don't apply to many programs for children and pregnant and
postnatal women, including Head Start early childhood education and WIC.
Nevertheless, Stephanie Santiago, who manages two Phoenix-area clinics for
the nonprofit Mountain Park Health Center, said during the last three months of
2019 she suddenly saw scores of immigrants drop those and other benefits.
"People are very scared about the rules," Santiago said. "The sad thing is
that they even drop the services their U.S. citizen kids qualify for. A lot of
these kids are going to school sick or their parents are paying out of pocket
for services they should get for free."
Cynthia Aragon, outreach coordinator for the nonprofit Helping Families in
Need in Phoenix, said that because of the confusion, she is steering people to
private sources of aid, like food banks and church-run clinics.
"I think people will start applying for government services again after it
becomes clearer how things are going to work," Aragon said. "In the meantime,
we tell immigrants to look for some of the other resources out there and don't
feel like a victim."