The regulation to limit access to citizenship or permanent residence to immigrants receiving public assistance is a major setback for California’s economy and health, local authorities and activists warned.
California governor Gavin Newsom and state prosecutor, Xavier Becerra, lead the criticism of the federal regulations announced on Monday and that will allow to reject the residence permits granted to immigrants defined as “public charge”, that is, those that have received “one or more designated public benefits” for more than 12 months in a 36 month period.
The regulations, which will take effect on October 15 and was released by the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), will have a strong impact on low-income families in California, according to their authorities.
“This is a reckless policy that focuses on the health and well-being of immigrant families and communities of color, with widespread implications for access to medical care and housing in our state,” Governor Newsom warned in a statement.
The list of benefits that an undocumented immigrant cannot access includes food assistance programs, housing assistance vouchers and health care programs that subsidize the high cost of medicines.
In this regard, Becerra explained that the rule will affect those undocumented members of the Golden State who receive medical care through Medi-Cal (California’s Medicaid), food support for children and families through CalFresh (California Nutrition Assistance Program) and housing, among others.
The prosecutor says that beyond the opportunity to legalize immigrants “this rule will harm the communities, schools and workplaces of the state”, as well as the local agricultural sector, which has a large amount of undocumented labor.
According to a recent analysis by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), there are 3,059,000 undocumented immigrants in California.
Officials’ concerns focus on how the new rule will affect health, especially that of the children of low-income undocumented immigrants.
Currently, California helps more than 730,000 children with free meals and more than 310,000 children receive reduced-price meals due to the participation of their homes in the Medicaid program.
In addition, almost 1.6 million children are certified to receive free meals due to the participation of their homes in the monthly food purchase supplement program (SNAP).
“This rule is not for citizen children, but their undocumented parents could consider taking them out because they believe they can be affected. The phone has not stopped ringing today asking about this rule,” Teresa Tejada, director of the Association of Salvadorans of Los Angeles (ASOSAL).
The state currently provides medical coverage to more than 130,000 undocumented children and adolescents, and next year will extend the service to immigrants without legal status until they turn 26, about 90,000 more benefits.
For the activist and lawyer Lizbeth Mateo, the president’s actions only try to “continue with the politics of fear” and racism against immigrants.
“The new rule is a document of almost 900 pages that opens the possibility to different interpretations,” Mateo said.
In Los Angeles, the director of the Coalition for Human Rights of Immigrants (CHIRLA), Angélica Salas, said that “to force immigrants to choose between their family’s basic needs, such as food or housing, that help finance with their taxes, and a path to legalization crosses another line”.
The harsh immigration policies of the Trump Administration, such as the decision to end the Deferred Action (DACA) or the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), has led California to head lawsuits against them.
Newsom stressed that his government is “actively reviewing the details of this new rule to determine the next steps to take.”
For his part, Becerra said that “California will not be left without doing anything while this Administration is running against programs on which children and families throughout the state depend.”