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Trump's New "Public Charge" Is a Radical and Grotesque Attack on Immigrant Communities and US Democracy

While Trump wages this political power grab, the regulation going into effect this week will devastate countless families, deterring immigrants and citizens from seeking critical services—even though their tax dollars support these very programs.

As the legal battle continues over the Trump administration's new "public charge" policy, "we must all fight this cruel regulation and the Trump administration's broader anti-immigrant agenda and see it for what it truly is: a power struggle between those of us who believe we can become an inclusive and equitable society and those who are threatened by our diversity." (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

As the legal battle continues over the Trump administration's new "public charge" policy, "we must all fight this cruel regulation and the Trump administration's broader anti-immigrant agenda and see it for what it truly is: a power struggle between those of us who believe we can become an inclusive and equitable society and those who are threatened by our diversity." (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

This week, the Trump administration launches a pernicious attack on our democracy as it begins implementing the so-called “public charge” regulation. This regulation is a racially-motivated wealth test that will block low- and moderate-income immigrants from obtaining visas and green cards by declaring that immigrants who are likely to use essential public services, like nutrition assistance and health care, at any time in the future, are ineligible. In short, it is a radical attack on the face of our democracy, which will disproportionately impact communities of color. By fundamentally transforming our legal immigration system to further privilege the wealthy and white, the Trump administration is seeking to prevent people of color from becoming permanent residents—and eventually citizens and voters.

While hundreds of thousands of people across the U.S. have protested this cruel regulation, and immigrants, state and local governments, and other stakeholders have sued the Trump administration to block it, the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the regulation to go into effect this week while lower courts review its legality. But, as the legal battle continues, we must all fight this cruel regulation and the Trump administration’s broader anti-immigrant agenda and see it for what it truly is: a power struggle between those of us who believe we can become an inclusive and equitable society and those who are threatened by our diversity.

"By fundamentally transforming our legal immigration system to further privilege the wealthy and white, the Trump administration is seeking to prevent people of color from becoming permanent residents—and eventually citizens and voters."

While Trump wages this political power grab, the regulation going into effect this week will devastate countless families, deterring immigrants and citizens from seeking critical services—even though their tax dollars support these very programs. The regulation has already had a chilling effect on immigrant communities. With the rampant fear and uncertainty surrounding this policy, many families who are not subject to the regulation have been foregoing access to programs for which they are eligible. Indeed, one in five adults in low-income immigrant families report that they or a family member chose not to seek vital public benefits, and the percentage of children without adequate health insurance increased in 2018 for the first time in a decade. These trends are deeply disturbing. Public benefits programs exist to help all families through hard times, and they are critical for building healthy families and communities.

As an immigrant, I understand firsthand how damaging this regulation will be for working families and our entire country. Each time I hear of another family that is foregoing crucial support for fear of losing the opportunity of remaining with their loved ones, I am reminded of my own family’s experience. I moved to the United States at the age of three, and my parents labored tirelessly to give my nine siblings and I the opportunity to thrive in this new country. They worked for decades in factory jobs, and turned to public support programs to help our family make ends meet during difficult times. With the help of these vital resources, my siblings and I have had the opportunity to pursue meaningful careers and give back to our communities and country.

Advocates for immigrants across the country, including my organization, the National Immigration Law Center, are fighting back alongside our communities to ensure that all of us, regardless of who we are and where we come from, will continue to have the opportunity to realize our full potential. But, now, as the regulation goes into effect for the time being, we need all Americans to fight back. As the Trump administration seeks to change the face of America by excluding and demonizing immigrants, we need everyone to stand up to defend our shared values and support immigrant families as they weather Trump’s attacks.

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First, we can fight fear with facts. We can all educate ourselves and help share the facts about who and what this regulation actually applies to, helping dispel the fear and confusion about public charge in immigrant communities. Many of our trusted community messengers — doctors, teachers, faith leaders, employers, public officials—live and work among immigrants or are immigrants ourselves. All of these trusted messengers can help mitigate the chilling effect of the public charge regulation by dispelling rumors and providing accurate information about public program eligibility. It’s critical to ensure that immigrant families are informed about what programs they can continue to access without fear of punishment.

Second, we can take direct action to support the immigrant-led organizations on the frontlines, as well as those providing legal services. Many are in dire need of contributions to help fund their work at this critical time and many also welcome volunteer support from pro bono attorneys, translators and other professionals with specialized skills.

Finally, we must defeat the Trump administration’s broader anti-immigrant and anti-democracy agenda this November. Those who can vote must cast ballots in support of candidates who believe our nation’s diversity is a strength and in policies that result in healthy and thriving communities. And those who cannot yet vote can still engage civically to protect our democracy by urging their family members, neighbors, and coworkers who are voters to show up for this most consequential election.

Although Trump seeks to deny the contributions of countless immigrants to the United States with the label “public charge,” immigrants pursuing the American dream represent the future of our nation’s democracy. We must continue to fight against the public charge regulation until that future is guaranteed for all of us.

Marielena Hincapié

Marielena Hincapié is executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, the leading organization dedicated to defending and advancing the rights of low-income immigrants in the U.S.

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