Immigrant advocates discuss potential “public charge” rule changes
Last week, three federal judges blocked a proposed change in immigration rules, attempted by the administration of President Donald Trump, that would have primarily impacted low-income individuals and families. It was a win for immigrants and immigrant rights advocates, but those who work on these issues say everything that transpired nevertheless caused a “chilling effect,” effectively scaring immigrant families away from much-needed health care and other social services.
At a public meeting about the looming threat held at Somerville City Hall earlier this month, before federal judges passed down their decision, immigrants and their allies expressed alarm. Representatives from city agencies, nonprofits, and various other groups heard from delegates of three stakeholder organizations about the negative impacts of the proposed changes, all noting their fears and concerns about how the city’s immigrant population was already being impacted.
“The level of missed appointments and people not showing up is an all-time high,” Ivan Espinoza, executive director of Lawyers for Civil Rights, told the audience. “And so people are removing themselves from lifesaving medical care and treatment. And that puts us all in danger if kids are being brought for vaccines, right?”
The proposed changes to the “public charge” rule would have negatively impacted up to 650,000 people every year, according to the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. According to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), adjustments would have subjected anyone “who earns less than 250% of the federal poverty line ($64,375 for a family of 4) to intense scrutiny … effectively excluding anyone below 125% of FPL ($32,188 for a family of 4)” from obtaining a green card or visa.
About one-quarter of Somerville’s 80,000 are foreign-born. Regina Bertholdo, director of the Enrollment Office of Somerville Public Schools, said such concerns add stress to the lives of many students.
“It’s already stressful enough because you have that sense of you not welcome in this country,” Bertholdo told Somerville Neighborhood News. “We have an administration [in Washington] that is doing everything to make immigrants not to feel welcome. With that stress at home, being frightened, then you’ll go to school [where] you would be expected to learn. … They could be experiencing food insecurity; they could be experiencing homelessness. On top of all, we expect this kid to come to school and learn.”
This specific proposed rule change was one of several policies that have been pushed or proposed by the Trump administration to restrict immigration .
Story published in collaboration with Somerville Neighborhood News.