To protect Miami-Dade families, stop this dangerous plan

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The proposal would deny citizenship to immigrants who apply for food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid.
The proposal would deny citizenship to immigrants who apply for food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid. THE WASHINGTON POST

The Trump administration continues to dream up countless ways to target immigrants, low-income families and low-wage workers on the way to fulfilling his campaign promise to confront illegal immigration, no matter who gets hurt — immigrants seeking legal status included.

While the reprehensible family-separation policy rightly commanded our attention for much of the year, the administration announced another, stealthier policy proposal, one that pursues, mostly, immigrants who are in this country legally. These are people who are following the rules, hewing to the process to become naturalized citizens.

The proposal is already causing lawfully present immigrants and citizens to give up certain public benefits,including food stamps, housing assistance, and Medicaid. This new “public charge” regulation weaponizes public programs, turning them against immigrants seeking admission to the United States or applying for a green card, which would grant them permanent residency and allow them to work.

Needless to say, those in South Florida would be hit hard. And those in Miami-Dade would be hit the hardest.

According to Miriam Harmatz, executive director of the Florida Health Justice Project, based in Miami, “Every doctor’s visit or family meal would put immigration status at risk,” she told the Editorial Board in an email. Even though the U.S.-born children and other dependents would not be affected by this proposal, “Since parents and children eat at the same table and sleep under the same roof, the regulation effectively denies basics like food and housing to whole families,” Harmatz wrote.

A study conducted by Manatt Health, an independent consultancy, estimates that the “public charge” regulation threatens more than 2 million people in Florida; and in Miami-Dade it could potentially affect almost 700,000 residents. That’s more than 25 percent of the county’s population.Just the possibility that the public-charge rule might come to pass already has dissuaded many families from seeking necessary healthcare.

In an Oct. 10 Herald story, Dr. Fred Anderson said he already is seeing fewer immigrant patients. They are suddenly reluctant to show up, even for follow-up appointments, given that they do not yet have permanent residency. They are afraid, of losing Medicaid, of overzealous ICE enforcement, of deportation.

Rather than relieve what the administration sees as a public burden, the proposal will likely worsen the challenges that our community faces, and that public programs effectively help alleviate. The rule likely will not force immigrants to leave. It, instead, will push them underground, or into the shadows, especially if their children were born American citizens. Losing the ability to access food consistently and to stable housing will solve nothing. And those so needlessly affected will still access healthcare, only it will be the costliest care — in the emergency room — when a family member is at his or her sickest.

The public-charge proposal is another simplistic and cruel administration policy that offers nothing close to a solution for our patchwork of inconsistent immigration policies.

Fortunately, South Floridians can help stop this dangerous plan. Federal law gives all of us — immigrant and citizen alike — the right to comment on the proposal. Readers can submit comments opposing the regulation at www.protectingimmigrant

families.org. They have until Dec. 10. That is a deadline we in Miami-Dade cannot afford to miss.