Texas Tribune Opinion: Proposed federal rule could penalize legal immigrants, like my parents

By Mirka Estrada

When my parents took my brothers and me to visit my grandparents in Mexico last summer, it was meant to be a relaxing family reunion. But I spent the week feeling terrified. I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen when we crossed the border and returned to Texas.

In years past, I never worried about this. My father has been a permanent U.S. resident for more than 20 years, and my mother has been one for 10 years. My brothers and I are citizens. But I had just completed a summer internship in the City of Dallas’ Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs Office, where I learned that a forthcoming Trump Administration proposal could jeopardize the immigration status of nearly 7 million legal immigrants.

The draft proposal, which was officially released in September, widely expands the definition of a “public charge,” which determines the extent to which immigrants depend on the government. Currently, a “public charge” is defined as someone who receives cash benefits worth more than 51 percent of their income. Under the new rule, a family of four that receives as little as $2.50 per person, per day — and is 95 percent self-sufficient — could be considered government dependent.

My parents have worked hard their entire lives. They pay their taxes and have utilized limited government services, such as Medicaid, to help my brothers and me. When my family was visiting my grandparents in Mexico last summer, the proposed rule change had not yet been released so we didn’t know if this would work against us. As we reached the border, I feared that we’d be turned away or, worse, that my siblings and I would be separated from our parents.

Fortunately, the border crossing went fine. And after the draft regulation was announced in late September, I breathed another sigh of relief. Neither the benefits my parents receive for their kids nor the health insurance they receive through the Affordable Care Act will count against them. But if my parents were ever forced to rely on Medicaid or certain housing or nutrition subsidies it could result in their deportation. This is outrageous. Every family needs help sometimes; it makes no sense to deny them the chance to see a doctor or put food on the table–or to use their health and well-being as a fear tactic to promote a political agenda.

I’m hopeful that by that time my parents are required to renew their legal status, our leaders in Washington will take a more sensible approach to this policy.

But we’re still living with uncertainty, as are many of my classmates at my Dallas public high school. The 400-page draft regulation is so broad that it’s nearly impossible to say exactly what the implications will be for my classmates and their families.

If the new public charge rule is enacted, it would likely harm the U.S. economy, says the bipartisan nonprofit New American Economy. A recently released NAE analysis finds that 91 percent of non-citizens who would be affected by the regulation change  earn more than $96.4 billion annually. If they are forced to leave the country, the total economic losses of these workers could cost the U.S. economy $164.4 billion.

This is a nation of immigrants. Many Americans can trace their ancestry back to a grandparent or great-grandparent who came here from another country, excited by the American promise that hard work would lead to success. Families like mine that have arrived more recently are no different. By targeting working immigrant families, the proposed public charge rule isn’t just cruel and shortsighted — it’s un-American.

See the original opinion piece at tribtalk.org.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…