The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose a plan by the Trump administration to bar legal immigrants who accept government subsidies from gaining permanent residency in the United States.
Supervisor Hilda Solis championed the resistance, saying the proposed change was “dangerous” and would increase homelessness and threaten public health.
“The proposed rule will have, and was designed to have, a wide-reaching, chilling effect on enrollment in essential public benefits, resulting in drastic, negative impacts on the health, safety and well-being of our residents,” Solis said. “We have a moral and civic responsibility to every one of our residents, regardless of immigration status, to deliver important public services and benefits that improve their quality of life.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion, said the county should use its power and join with others to stand up to Washington’s attempts to harass the immigrant community.
“We used to say to bullies, `pick on somebody your own size,”’ Kuehl said of her school days. But “there’s nobody (Trump’s) size, given the bloated ego and everything else.”
The proposed change has not yet been formally published in the Federal Register, but based on a draft circulated by the Department of Homeland Security it would change the definition of a “public charge.” The designation gives DHS the leeway to deny a green card and permanent residency to a legal immigrant it believes could end up dependent on government assistance.
The current, narrower definition considers whether someone received cash assistance, but the proposed regulation would expand the definition to include the use of Medicaid, public housing subsidies, benefits commonly called food stamps and Medicare subsidies for low-income residents.
County health and social service officials warned that the rule change could force legal immigrants to choose between a green card and buying healthy food or getting timely medical care and immunizations from a local clinic. Someone might refuse a housing subsidy out of fear of being deported one day.
“Nationwide, one in four children live in a family with an immigrant parent, and fear of accessing health care services would negatively affect the growth and healthy development of these children,” said Barbara Ferrer, who runs the county’s Department of Public Health. “This fear will also result in an increase in the number of people who are not immunized against flu and other communicable diseases that are easily transmitted among the general public, increasing the risk of disease outbreaks.”
Dr. Christina Ghaly, who leads the county’s hospital and clinic system, sent a message to immigrants, saying, “We’re committed to serving all patients” regardless of their country of origin or their immigration status.
DHS estimates the change could save federal and state governments $2.27 billion annually as immigrants drop out of programs or fail to sign up for public benefits, though critics have challenged that estimate.
Trump, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and other proponents say the changes would create a more merit-based system of immigration.
“This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers,” Nielsen said in a statement issued last month.
In addition to the receipt of government benefits, the new regulation would allow DHS to consider a list of 15 additional factors — including whether the green card applicant is older than 61, has private health insurance, has several dependents or a low credit score — before ruling on whether they are likely to become a public charge.
The board will send letters of opposition to federal officials and the Senate and House leadership. It also directed county lawyers to draft a comprehensive response to be submitted during a 60-day public comment period following publication of the new rule and to look for opportunities to file or join a lawsuit on the matter.
The board also asked departments to develop a coordinated outreach campaign to educate immigrants on the issue and their rights.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the lone Republican on the technically non-partisan board, said she believed in public assistance as “a hand up and not a hand-out” but echoed Solis’ concerns that the rule would drive up health care costs by forcing people into emergency rooms and land more people on the streets.
Barger accused the federal government, which would end up paying for some of those emergency room costs, of being “pennywise, pound foolish” and warned that the proposal would “create an underground for those who want to do right by the laws of this country.”
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