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Queens Borough President Melinda Katz

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz blasted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule change that would render immigrants who receive certain forms of public assistance such as Medicaid, Medicare food stamps and Section 8 vouchers potentially ineligible for U.S. permanent residency.

In September, DHS announced it would significantly broaden the criteria it could use to label an immigrant applying for legal residency as a public charge. The rule change was published in the Federal Register last week, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.

“Let’s call this misguided, anti-immigrant proposal for what it is: an income test for pursuit of the American Dream. Forcing people to make a choice between food on the table or a roof over their heads or access to health coverage — and a Green Card? It is a vicious, immoral proposal to force such an impossible choice upon any family, and it is un-American,” Katz said.

“This would potentially compel hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers either deeper into the shadows or deeper into poverty, which in turn jeopardizes the health, safety and well-being of all New Yorkers. And let’s not forget the 68,000 Queens children who come from mixed-status families where a U.S. citizen is entitled to these benefits, and where the family could face separation resulting from such an impossible choice,” she added.

When she announced the proposed rule change, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen explained that the term “public charge” as applied to the admission of aliens to the United States had a long history in immigration law, appearing at least as far back as the Immigration Act of 1882.

“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” Nielsen said. “The department takes seriously its responsibility to be transparent in its rule-making and is welcoming public comment on the proposed rule. This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

Katz isn’t the only elected official in Queens who is outraged by the proposed change.

Assemblyman David Weprin also warned that this greatly affects Queens, where immigrants make up nearly half of the population, by discouraging people from accessing vital resources.

“The Trump Administration, through the Department of Homeland Security, has renewed its attack on immigrants and the poor by broadening the interpretation of the public charge by proposing to use certain public services such as food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, and public-housing programs as tools to exclude law abiding immigrants from obtaining visas,” Weprin said. “These programs are not handouts but helping hand-ups that allows countless individuals to thrive in our nation.”

The official version in the Federal Register will contain information about how to submit comments on the proposed interpretation.

“Our country should be open to all and access should not be sold off to the highest bidders,” Weprin added. “As such, I encourage all New Yorkers to submit public comments opposing this despicable attack on our values and call on the Trump Administration to immediately rescind this inhumane rule change.”

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