Portland Council Opposes Rule Change That Would Penalize Immigrants Receiving Assistance

Dec 4, 2018

Portland’s city council unanimously passed a resolution on Monday opposing changes in immigration rules being proposed by the Trump administration.

Those changes would broaden the range of public programs that may lead to immigrants who use them being denied permanent resident status or citizenship. The city council says the changes would “upend” the longstanding practice of helping immigrant families.

Pious Ali in Feb. 2017.
Credit Ryan Caron King / New England News Collaborative

City Councilor Pious Ali is an immigrant from Ghana, and became a U.S. citizen 10 years ago. He introduced the resolution because, he says, he felt obligated.

“First and foremost I am an immigrant and everything that affects any immigrant, irrespective of where they are coming from, affects me,” he says.

Right now, the federal government looks at whether an immigrant is financially self-sufficient, or whether they’re likely to need public aid such as cash assistance, when deciding whether that person should be approved for a green card or for citizenship.

If it is found that the person is likely to become a “public charge,” that hurts their chances. Under the proposed rules, the list of programs that could hurt an immigrant’s chances now includes Medicaid, food stamps and housing assistance.

The Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to requests for comment, but in a statement that accompanied the release of the new rules, it says that under the the proposed rules, “current and past receipt” of public benefit would be a “heavily-weighted negative factor.”

It’s not clear exactly how the new rules would be used to determine who does and doesn’t get a change in status. And Ali says that for people who may fear they’ll be denied citizenship or a visa, even programs to which they have a legal right could be put off limits.

“People will be afraid to go in for things that they are eligible,” he says.

And, Ali says, the system may also screen out all but the most wealthy applicants.

“It’s going to make our immigration policy for a certain class of people — people who can afford to say, ‘I have a million dollars in the bank, and I’m going to go to the U.S.,’ which is class-based immigration policy,” he says.

DHS says the proposed changes would promote self-sufficiency and make sure immigrants don’t become a burden on American taxpayers.

It’s not clear how many people in Portland could be affected by the rule change, although the city estimates that nationwide it could affect around half a million.

Public comment for the new rules ends Dec. 10.