Column: The cruelty of Trump’s ‘public charge’ rule puts Californians ‘in the crosshairs’

President Trump put his ignorance about immigration on full display during a meeting Tuesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), right, at the White House. Also present was Vice President Mike Pence.
President Trump put his ignorance about immigration on full display during a meeting Tuesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), right, at the White House. Also present was Vice President Mike Pence.
(Michael Reynolds / EPA)

The unexampled malevolence of the Trump administration toward immigrants and the nation’s neediest residents has hardly been a secret. But nothing lays it out more forcibly than its proposal to tighten the “public charge” rule, which applies to those seeking admission to the United States or hoping to upgrade their immigration status.

The rule targets working immigrants, people of color and immigrant communities, and will hit California, which has welcomed those newcomers, especially hard.

That’s the conclusion of Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, laid out in a blistering 51-page comment on the proposed rule filed Monday, the comment deadline, with the Department of Homeland Security. The rule’s aim is “simply to deny economic opportunity to low-income families,” Becerra wrote. It not only will throw millions of residents out of public assistance programs, but will also have a chilling effect that will keep people who need help from seeking it.


Our state is better off when everyone is healthy and has access to healthcare.

— California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra

The bottom line for the U.S. government will be written in red ink: “Discouraging participation in these programs will lead to greater economic and social costs than any purported savings to the programs themselves,” Becerra observed (emphasis his).

The proposal could deny permanent residency or even citizenship to immigrants who have accessed public assistance programs or might do so in the future. The idea is to discourage immigrants who are likely to cost the country more than they contribute. But, as Becerra points out, this proposal would penalize immigrants for legitimately making use of programs designed to enhance the quality of life for all Californians, including programs that create value by helping their beneficiaries to hold down jobs or care for some family members so others can work.

Although so-called public charge rules long have been part of the immigration and naturalization process, this proposal would vastly expand the list of programs that would be counted against applicants for residency or citizenship.

In addition to cash assistance programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is commonly described as “welfare,” it would weigh programs such as the earned income tax credit, the Children’s Health Insurance Program , health plan subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and food stamps against applicants for the first time.

Did the administration apply any knowledge about the U.S. working class before promulgating this rule? Becerra thinks not, and he’s right.


The DHS argument that immigrants subject to the rule should be able to support themselves without seeking public benefits “is at odds with the realities of the modern workforce,” he asserts. Millions of Americans working for its biggest corporations receive public assistance, including Medicaid and food stamps. About 40% of food stamp recipients in the state are from working households, and their employers, you can be sure, appreciate the help as much as the employees do.

We wrote about this proposal and its certain effects in August, when it was still merely a draft. now that it’s been officially published, its cruelty is set out in shocking detail.

The proposal would give immigrant applications a black mark for accessing public benefits valued at more than 15% of the federal poverty level — this year, about $152 a month. It would vastly expand the programs included in the calculation by adding food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid, among others; currently only cash assistance and long-term institutional care are counted. And it would require some immigrants to put up a $10,000 bond to guarantee that they won’t need such benefits. Nothing in existing law requires a bond of that size. That’s almost as much as the $11,700 savings of the median American household, immigrant or not.

Make no mistake: The Trump administration well understands the cruelty of its proposal, and is forthright in stating that it doesn’t care. You don’t often see civilized governments admit to plotting to increase poverty and misery within their own borders, but this administration not only admits to this intention, but boasts about it.

“DHS has determined that the proposed rule may decrease disposable income and increase the poverty of certain families and children, including U.S. citizen children,” the proposal states. It acknowledges that forcing families off public programs or scaring them away could lead to “worse health outcomes, including increased prevalence of obesity and malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants, or children,” and “increased prevalence of communicable diseases, including among members of the U.S. citizen population who are not vaccinated.”


“However,” the proposal says, “DHS has determined that the benefits of the action justify the financial impact on the family.” The justifications put forward include “better ensuring the self-sufficiency of aliens admitted or immigrating to the United States, and minimizing the financial burden of aliens on the U.S. social safety net.”

So on the one hand, more poverty and more health dangers for all Americans, including nonimmigrants. On the other, a cleaner federal budget. In any event, the proposal does nothing for self-sufficiency. As Becerra’s response observes, the proposal “flatly fails to promote self-sufficiency and instead chills participation in critical programs that help advance it.”

The rule proposal states that it would save “approximately $2.27 billion annually due to disenrollment or foregone enrollment in public benefits programs by aliens who may be receiving public benefits.” Let’s put that in context.

Trump last December signed a massive tax cut for the wealthy and corporations that will cost the government at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years, or an average $150 billion per year. Corporate America generally has passed its savings on — to shareholders, via billions of dollars in stock buybacks and dividends. Apple, one of the leading beneficiaries of the tax cut, will return an estimated $100 billion to shareholders this year alone.

So if you think this administration really is concerned about the federal budget, think again.

Becerra’s comment properly focuses on the potential impact of the public charge rule on Californians. He cites a study by Ninez A. Ponce of UCLA estimating that the state could lose $1.67 billion in federal funds, $2.8 billion from its economy and 17,700 jobs, of which nearly half would be in healthcare. If just one-third of members of immigrant families disenrolled from public programs out of fear of the rules, that would mean a loss of federal benefits for 765,000 people, Ponce calculated.


The attack on California’s economy would be severe. Becerra points out that 39% of the state’s child care and early education providers are immigrants, as is 33% of its healthcare labor force — twice the percentage as the nation as a whole. Some 95% of agricultural workers in California are immigrants, and 42% of construction workers — the highest percentage in the the country. More than a third of those construction workers’ families use public programs, so which puts them “into the crosshairs of the harm of this proposed rule.”

The rule would wreak havoc on the state’s public benefit infrastructure and its goals. Medi-Cal funds, Becerra observes, provides coverage to immigrant children under 19, regardless of their immigration status, “because our state is better off when everyone is healthy and has access to healthcare.” He adds that the state’s programs “allow mixed immigration status families to maintain strong family bonds, live healthier lives, and remain in their homes and in the workforce.”

Becerra urged the DHS to withdraw the rule, and he’s not alone; a torrent of criticism has flowed into the agency in protest. Don’t count on the Trump administration to listen. As can be judged from his temper tantrum over immigration during his meeting Tuesday with Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, his ignorance about the lives of immigrants is bottomless.

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