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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. 

   No more. 

   "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 
other advocates.

   "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 
policy. 

   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 
States taxpayers."

   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 
vouchers.

   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 
them. 

   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 
not affected. 

   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."


(KR)

 
 
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