Local officials condemn crackdown on legal immigrants using food stamps, other public benefits

Gov. Gavin Newsom and an array of Bay Area officials on Monday deplored a new rule by President Donald Trump’s administration that will make it harder for low-income legal immigrants to extend their stays or seek permanent residency.

“This is a reckless policy that targets the health and well-being of immigrant families and communities of color, with widespread implications for our state’s health care, housing and affordability.,” Newsom said.

The rule announced Monday goes into effect Oct. 15. It will require immigration officials to consider whether immigrants seeking visa extensions or permanent residency have obtained or are likely to apply for government aid for food, housing or health care.

Newsom, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, University of California President Janet Napolitano and others said the new policy will harm immigrants by deterring them from getting needed help.

“It threatens noncitizens with dire immigration consequences for accessing public services they are lawfully entitled to receive and makes it more difficult for counties to provide services that make all our residents healthier and more self-sufficient,” Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in a statement.

Lawyers with the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said they plan to sue. Williams, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra each also said they are considering “all legal options” to oppose the rule.

The administrative rule would revise the interpretation of a provision of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act that requires officials to consider whether immigrants seeking admission or a change in status are likely to become “a public charge.”

Previously, since 1999, the provision was interpreted to apply to immigrants who receive cash welfare benefits.

The new rule would expand the “public charge” definition to apply as well to people who have received or are likely to receive Medicaid, food stamps, other nutrition assistance or subsidized housing.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said, “Let’s be clear — this proposal is designed to make our most vulnerable residents forego critical services, food, and medical care that they lawfully receive or risk the opportunity to remain in the United States in the future.”

Napolitano said the rule “sends a detrimental message internationally — that the United States does not want other countries to send their best and brightest here to study and add to the intellectual exchange at our universities, to conduct important research, and to contribute substantially to our economy, among other things.”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, stated, “This rule will hurt thousands of immigrant families across the country, including many here in the East Bay, as they try to provide for themselves and keep food on the table.

“Denying immigrants visas and green cards because they need help is wrong and xenophobic,” Lee said.

In announcing the measure Monday, Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli said it will promote American ideals of “self-reliance, industriousness, and perseverance.”

“Throughout our history, self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream,” Cuccinelli said.

-Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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