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Hidden Charge: The Financial Side of Trump’s Immigration Agenda

For well over a year, we’ve seen the Trump administration take a much harder line of attack when it comes to immigration policy. So far, we’ve seen it in the form of ICE raids, deportation demands, and the constant threat of “build the wall”. However, this isn’t the only way that President Donald Trump wants to make life harder for immigrant communities. He’s using another line of attack: one that may fly under the radar, yet one that can inflict just as much pain on the families being targeted.

“When children are scared, it can affect their health and development.”
– Danilo Trisi, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP)

In March, ICE conducted a surprise arrest of Cecilia Gomez and attempted to fast-track her deportation. Though they didn’t succeed on that end, they have succeeded in creating a climate of fear. Not only does this fear affect those directly targeted by ICE, but the fear also permeates into the lives of their families.

Last week, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released a new report on the hidden side of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. The report noted how the threat to deport a parent can psychologically harm children, and how that psychological harm could lead to physical health problems and trouble learning in school.

During our call with the report’s authors, CBPP Senior Research Analyst Danilo Trisi pointed to the Gomez case to illustrate what’s happening across the nation: “Our review of various studies show that Cecilia Gomez’s case is not an isolated incident. These aggressive enforcement actions are happening across the country and are leading to more stress and behavioral changes in children. […] When children are scared, it can affect their health and development.”

Leading the charge with an obscure rule change

That’s not all, though. Beyond the mere threat of deportation, the Trump administration is pursuing both legislative and executive actions that would inflict further harm on immigrant families. For one, they’re seeking a change to the “public charge” rule that would penalize immigrants who utilize any of a long list of social safety net programs, from housing assistance and health insurance to popular tax breaks like the earned income tax credit.

For example, if an immigrant is on track for permanent legal status and accesses SNAP (also known as food stamps) or CHIP (as in, the Children’s Health Insurance Program) for one’s children, the federal government will use it as reason to deny a green card to this immigrant. Even though the family is legally entitled to these benefits, and even if the children are U.S. citizens, the federal government would argue against granting this person a path to citizenship, just for making sure one’s children have the food and health care they need. In addition, the federal government would use these benefits against a relative should this immigrant sponsor the relative for a green card.

For CBPP’s Danilo Trisi, this proposed rules change demonstrates how the Trump White House is weaponizing the American social safety net to harm immigrants and their families. “We are concerned that this new proposal will create more fear and scare people away from programs that help children in need and provide long-term positive effects.” Trisi continued, “This is targeting legal residents who are eligible for these programs. This is a backdoor way of undoing their eligibility.”

From “charge” to “RAISE”, how Trump wants Congress to make life even harder for immigrants

This “public charge” rule may be the Trump administration’s nefarious attempt to make life harder for immigrant families, but they don’t want to stop there. They’re also demanding that Congress pass the RAISE Act, which would end the nation’s family-based immigration system as we know it and replace it with a limited merit-based system. While that may not sound all that extreme at first glance, look at the fine print.

One glaring example builds upon Trump’s proposed “public charge” executive order. If the RAISE Act were to become law, immigrant families would not only be discouraged from accessing social safety net programs, but banned from them altogether. This would basically be a national version of what California attempted 24 years ago with Prop 187.

Thus far, neither the RAISE Act nor other Trump-endorsed anti-immigrant bills have passed both houses of Congress, and CBPP’s Danilo Trisi suspects that’s a key reason why the White House is now attempting to do as much as possible via executive action: “They haven’t succeeded in getting any legislation through Congress, so they’re now seeking these changes through rule changes.”

“These aggressive policies are weakening our future. These are very counterproductive policies when it comes to the future of America.”
– Danilo Trisi, CBPP

In a bitterly ironic twist, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his “zero tolerance” policy to break up families crossing the border and prosecute anyone entering the nation undocumented during the same week when First Lady Melania Trump announced her “Be Best” initiative to improve the “social, emotional, and physical health of children”. In other words, while the First Lady took to the White House Rose Garden to call for action against cyberbullying and opioid abuse, the Attorney General was essentially taunting many of the very children the First Lady claimed the White House wants to help.

That’s the thing here: This is yet another example of this White House playing fast and loose with facts and truth to spin its narratives. Despite Donald Trump‘s incessant labeling of immigrants as “criminals”, “animals”, and “drains on society”, he still can’t point to any real evidence to back up his claims. Not only are various restrictions to social safety net programs already in place, but the evidence we do have suggests that poor immigrants are the least likely group to access safety net programs.

Not only can one argue that these policies are grossly inhumane, but they may ultimately be anything but helpful when it comes to ensuring America’s children, all our children, are being their best and working their way to achieve the American dream. As Danilo Trisi put it, “These kids consider themselves full Americans. They want to contribute to our society. This would make it harder for them to succeed. These are very counterproductive policies when it comes to the future of America.”

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