Nothing is out of bounds for President Donald Trump in his quest to backpedal demographic shifts shaping the United States into a diverse nation.
This was made clear when he had no qualms ordering Central American children ripped apart from their asylum-seeking parents at the border — and remains so, as he now stands in violation of a court order to reunite all of the children with loved ones.
After the horror of separation, it’s hard to believe that life could get worse for immigrants in this country.
But — in the pursuit of strategies that discourage and curtail immigration, legal and otherwise — Trump isn’t done using kids to go after immigrant parents.
His latest vile idea is a rule that expands the definition of what is “a public charge.” Under stricter regulations, his administration would deny green cards and citizenship to immigrants using public assistance programs like Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and SNAP. Housing assistance and Medicare drug subsidies for low-income seniors are included as well.
With this move, once again, parents will be left to make Solomon-like decisions.
Do they choose to forgo medical attention for themselves and their kids — or do they risk being denied permanent legal status? Do they leave the abuelitos who take care of the children so they can work without expensive medicine?
Do they decline the free school lunch and breakfast they qualify for? Something as innocuous as that in their record, under Trump, can turn into an excuse to deny them residency and eventually citizenship.
In states with high immigrant populations like Florida, this means that hundreds of thousands of children would go without healthcare, food stamp meals, and school lunches and breakfasts.
He’s not just punishing adults who made illegally entries, or adults, already documented and working hard to merit citizenship. He’s also punishing Americans. Many of the children affected are U.S. citizens, born here into households where one or both parents are immigrants. They will be the voters of tomorrow.
Pregnant women also come to mind.
Denying them pregnancy benefits amounts to Republicans sending immigrant women to have abortions because they won’t be able to afford to deliver their babies or provide them with food and healthcare. This is hypocrisy of the highest order from the party that opposes choice and once touted itself as being the one who stood for the highest of family values.
With this rule, Trump is opening a heck of a Pandora’s box.
Doctors are concerned that they would be putting their patients at risk of being separated from their families for using medical benefits for which they qualify. Teachers are sickened at the thought of having to teach hungry children. Democratic lawmakers are rightfully up in arms.
Twenty-two Senate Democrats sent a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen expressing “grave concerns” and asking the administration to withdraw the public charge rule, published Wednesday in the Federal Register. The public now has 60 days to submit comments.
“Under current immigration law, immigrants are already required to prove that they will not be a burden on our country. They must show they have adequate means of financial support and they cannot be dependent on cash assistance from the government,” the senators wrote. “If this rule goes into effect, hardworking families will try to make ends meet with less — hurting children — for no other reason than to advance this administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.”
The letter fell on deaf ears, but under the law, the administration is obligated to review the serious comments sent to them on this issue.
The effects on South Florida will be devastating.
According to the Florida Health Justice Project, more than 233,000 children enrolled in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program are U.S. citizens who live in “mixed-status” families where one or more parent is not a citizen. About half of them live in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
According to the 2016 American Community Survey, more than 400,000 U.S. citizen children in Florida enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP have a non-citizen parent. Half of them live in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties as well.
One of things that separates the United States from the Third World is that you don’t see children on the streets begging or selling trinkets instead of going to school to help their parents survive.
Is this where we want to go, really, taking away safety nets?
If Trump has his way, the immigration narrative of reaching for the American Dream — which built and has sustained this nation — will be writing its last chapter. For the president, hard-working immigrants and their American children are only collateral damage to discard.
Follow Fabiola Santiago on Twitter @fabiolasantiago