December 10, 2018
Public Comment Submitted by The Latino Community Association to the Office of Policy and Strategy, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security
Re: Docket No.USCIS-2010-0012 Comments in Response to Proposed Rulemaking: Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds
Dear Ms Deshommes,
I write to you on behalf of The Latino Community Association (LCA) of central Oregon and our board of directors. My name is Brad Porterfield. I have had the honor of being the Executive Director of LCA since 2006. Our nonprofit primarily serves our immigrant families with limited English proficiency in need of translation and information about the way things work in our communities. We served just under 3,000 individuals this year impacting the lives of 8,800 people. Our immigrant families do not come to us asking for handouts. They come seeking information about how to find employment, resolve issues they face, quell their doubts, learn how to navigate our institutions and laws, and receive guidance in pursuing their dreams. However, though the families we serve are hard-working, 90% have household incomes under $30,000 and housing costs are high. These are law-abiding families, but those without authorization to work are caught in a system that rarely gives them an opportunity to get ahead, yet regularly throws up barriers in their path.
The Latino Community Association (LCA) opposes the proposed rulemaking re: inadmissibility on public charge grounds (Docket No.USCIS-2010-0012) based on the fact that it would make our already unjust immigration system even more inhumane. Our economy relies on an immigrant workforce that fills most of our seasonal, less-than-full-time, minimum wage jobs without which many small businesses would not be viable. Our government should not penalize people for being poor and working-class when this same government has denied them the benefits, tax credits, job training and education assistance to access higher-paying work.
The immigration system which the U.S. has employed for at least the past three decades is a dehumanizing system that issues Individual Tax ID numbers to unauthorized working immigrants to collect payroll taxes from their labor while simultaneously denying them meaningful access to adjust their status, denying them child and EITC tax credits, safety-net benefits including unemployment when times get tough, and now further threatening them with inadmissibility on public charge grounds. We have a system that all but ensures a large segment of immigrants will remain low-income (well below 250 percent of the federal poverty level) and be denied the benefits we provide to low-income citizens to ensure they enjoy a basic standard of living to support their families. And because the vast majority of immigrants are determined to follow our laws with hopes of adjusting their status, they are choosing, based on rumors of this proposed rule change, to give up Medicaid benefits and SNAP assistance, which their U.S. citizen children are legally eligible for, out of fear this might jeopardize their chance to gain work authorization. This proposed rule would make our already unjust system even more inhumane.
Immigrants come to the United States to work, often at jobs Americans do not want to do. They also want their children to get an education and succeed in their new country. For the overwhelming majority, tapping into public benefits is not part of their plan. But gaining permanent residency, and perhaps citizenship, in the U.S. is a high priority.
One in 10 Oregon residents is an immigrant, and about one in eight residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent, according to a fact sheet, “Immigrants in Oregon,” published by the American Immigration Council in 2017.* Nearly 90,000 U.S. citizens in Oregon live with at least one family member who is unauthorized.
In Oregon, immigrants made up 12.8 percent of the workforce in 2015, and more than a third of all immigrants in Oregon are naturalized U.S. citizens, states the same report.
Any changes in the pathway to permanent residency or citizenship will have ripple effects on other family members who may be citizens or permanent residents.
The proposed rule change would negatively impact Oregon’s immigrant families, whom the Latino Community Association serves, in these ways:
- Immigrants must earn 250 percent of the official poverty-level income under the proposed rule. For a family of four, the required income would be $50,200 a year (figure from the 2018 Health & Human Services Poverty Guidelines). Unfortunately, most immigrants in our region work at jobs that pay low wages and do not consistently provide forty hours of work each week. This requirement would exclude many hard-working residents of Oregon who would not meet this threshold, even though they work full-time. Plus, their contributions to their employers and to our local economy hardly qualify them as a public charge.
- Immigrants will be reluctant to sign up for public health insurance (Medicaid) for family members who qualify. Most jobs filled by immigrants do not offer health insurance. Even if their minor children qualify, the parents may be afraid to apply for, or continue receiving, public health insurance. A family with an illness that requires care would have to choose between essential treatment and jeopardizing their chances of adjusting their status. This will potentially raise health costs and put a strain on our emergency rooms and federally qualified health centers.
Since 2012, the Latino Community Association has enrolled over 4,500 people in the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). Although we focus on the Latino community, our six enrollment assisters, trained by the state, enroll all qualified persons who visit or are referred to our offices. About 31% of the people we have helped access this benefit are foreign-born residents who are typically parents who receive no federal benefits. Many more are U.S.-born children of immigrant parents.
Immigrants who receive health care through OHP have heard rumors about this proposed rule change. Many of our clients are now afraid to renew their coverage, according to our OHP enrollment staff. If they let their coverage lapse, they may forego treatment for a condition that could lead to complications, an expensive stay in a hospital, or even death. No one in our community benefits from these outcomes.
The Latino Community Association strives to help immigrants become self-sufficient members of our communities in Oregon. If Homeland Security begins to define immigrants who have used SNAP benefits or Medicaid as likely to become a public charge and therefore unworthy of gaining work authorization or adjusting their status, it will further marginalize and substantially harm thousands of already established, hard-working families who aspire to permanent residency and citizenship in this country, as well as the communities they live in. It will harm the businesses their labor supports. And it will harm our economy if a highly productive workforce is lost, apartments and homes are vacated, and their consumer dollars go elsewhere.
For these reasons, we strongly encourage you to reject this proposed rule change.
Note: We request that our source materials be added to the public record. Thank you!