Press Release: Radical Revised Public Charge Regulation Will Punish Lawfully Present Immigrant Families in Mississippi, Increasing Hunger and Poor Health

Radical Revised Public Charge Regulation Will Punish Lawfully Present Immigrant Families 

in Mississippi, Increasing Hunger and Poor Health 

Jackson, Miss. —Today, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its new “public charge” regulation, which aims to sow fear and reap chaos, cruelty, and increased racial and economic injustices in health, food security, and poverty for immigrant families in Mississippi and throughout the land of the free. DHS’ final rule strikes mere days after the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s morally reprehensible raids in Mississippi, which ignited a massive humanitarian crisis.

The finalized regulation, which is scheduled to go into effect October 15, marks a radical and deeply flawed departure from longstanding U.S. immigration policy and professed American values. In a bold act of administrative overreach, it aims to subvert Congress by punishing lawfully present immigrants and their families for accessing public benefits to which they remain entitled under federal law. It directs immigration officials to reject applications from people who wish to remain in or enter the U.S. if they have received—or are likely to receive in the future—most forms of Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), several forms of federal housing assistance, and cash benefits for income maintenance. It is designed to force lawfully present immigrant families who work hard, pay their taxes, and follow the rules to choose between participating in public programs that combat hunger, poor health, and poverty, and staying together.

Last winter, more than 260,000 faith leaders, lawmakers, health care and public health practitioners, Americans from all walks of life, and nonprofits including the Mississippi Center for Justice submitted comments to the Federal Register in overwhelming opposition to the Administration’s proposed public charge rule. 

 The Mississippi Center for Justice estimated that the public charge rule could cause as many as 73,808 noncitizen immigrants and their family members in Mississippi, including 22,722 children, to disenroll or forgo enrollment from vital health care, nutrition, and housing supports that they are eligible for under federal law. Immigrants of color could comprise 80 percent of the total population that will avoid public benefits because of the rule.

Since then, we bore witness to the proposed rule’s immediate and immense chilling effect on public benefit participation in Mississippi. Out of fear of internment, deportation, and family separation, countless lawfully present immigrants working for low wages are avoiding public programs such as Medicaid and SNAP to which they are legally entitled. As a result, many immigrant families, including citizen children, are grappling with severe unmet health care needs, hunger, and poverty. The Department of Homeland Security’s finalization of the public charge rule will feed a fire that is already burning in the Magnolia State.

The Mississippi Center for Justice condemns this latest attack in the Administration’s war on immigrants of color. We will continue to work with partners and allies in Mississippi and across the country to combat this immoral policy using every tool at our disposal.

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For more information or comment about the finalized public charge rule change, please contact Madeline Morcelle, Staff Attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, at mmorcelle@mscenterforjustice.org

 

About the Mississippi Center for Justice

The Mississippi Center for Justice is a nonprofit, public interest law firm committed to advancing racial and economic justice. Supported and staffed by attorneys, community leaders and volunteers, the Center develops and pursues strategies to combat discrimination and poverty statewide.

 

Advancing Racial and Economic Justice for Asylum-Seekers

I’ll never forget the day that Alberto (name changed) came into our office seeking immigration help.  Only a teenager, Alberto fled his native Guatemala alone—leaving behind his loved ones and traversing Mexico through the unrelenting summer’s heat—to seek safety in central Mississippi, where his uncle lived.  As a Guatemalan Maya from the country’s western highlands, Alberto faced a lifetime of severe poverty, lack of opportunity, and possible death in his native country—solely because of his ethnicity.  

Before Alberto was born, Guatemalan soldiers murdered several members of his family during the country’s decades-long civil war, in which the government committed over 600 massacres against its indigenous citizens.  Even though the Peace Accords officially ended the war before Alberto’s birth, its legacies—along with the weight of generations of state-sanctioned racism, oppression, and genocide against the Maya—suffocated Alberto in his home country.  Born into extreme poverty, Alberto, his parents, and three siblings depended on a small subsistence farm in order to survive, unable to find economic opportunities in other parts of the country.  He dropped out of school in the third grade in order to work on the farm.  

When Alberto was around fourteen, the Guatemalan government approved the installation of a mine site in a neighboring town, despite strong opposition and protests by local indigenous groups, including Alberto and his family.  Alberto, his family, and neighbors protested the mine because they were afraid that the government would take their land, on which they depended for survival, and give it to the mining company.  Even if they did not lose their land, they also feared that the mining would contaminate their crops and water supply.  Unfortunately, many of these protests turned violent, with private mine security and state forces violently repelling protesters.  In one of these skirmishes, a miner slashed Alberto’s arm with a machete.  

Fearing for his life, Alberto fled his homeland for safety in the United States.  After the exhausted and dehydrated young man reached the U.S./Mexico border and requested protection, U.S. Border Patrol officers arrested Alberto, moved him to a children’s shelter, and released him into the care of his uncle in Central Mississippi.  Alberto’s fight for his life was far from over, however.  Upon his release, U.S. officials handed him a Notice to Appear, which advised him in English that he would have to appear before an Immigration Judge in Memphis to navigate the complicated asylum process in order to remain in the country.  He would face a prosecutor from the Department of Homeland Security, but would have no government-appointed attorney to represent him.  He would have to file all applications for protection and documents in English.  And if he mis-stepped even once, the U.S. government would forcibly remove Alberto to the country that nearly killed him.  

Thankfully, Alberto did not have to face this daunting system alone.  With the support of law students from the Mississippi College School of Law Immigration Clinic, with whom MCJ has partnered, Alberto won his asylum case and continues to reside in central Mississippi, where he is studying for his GED, learning English, and healing from the trauma he suffered.

Given recent attacks on asylum, asylum-seekers like Alberto need your support.  To learn more about the asylum process and ways that you can advocate for stronger legal protections for asylum-seekers like Alberto, you can visit:

National Immigration Forum:  

http://www.immigrationforum.org

American Immigration Lawyers Association:

http://www.aila.org

Catholic Legal Immigration Network:

http://www.cliniclegal.org

To learn how you can support Mississippi asylum-seekers like Alberto, please email amcgowan@mscenterforjustice.org.

Amelia McGowan is Testing Coordinator - Fair Housing/Immigration for the Mississippi Center for Justice.