The Maine Multicultural Center welcomes and champions diversity as essential to the economic and social vitality of Maine. At MMCC, we know that immigrants are necessary to the future of our state.
One in four children in the U.S. has at least one immigrant parent. These families – in addition to families and individuals who wish to come to America – may soon be forced to choose between accepting aid for basic necessities and preserving their immigration status.
The public has until Monday, December 10, to comment on a proposed a change to the Public Charge rule of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) uses this rule to determine who may be admitted to the U.S. and who is eligible to receive green cards.
Under the current rule, immigrants cannot be admitted and current residents cannot be issued green cards if USCIS analysis determines they are likely to become a “public charge,” meaning if they are likely to use cash assistance programs of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), comparable state and local programs, or government-funded, long-term institutional care. The public charge rule does not apply to refugees or asylees, nor does it affect citizenship applications of current green card holders.
However, the proposed new rule would greatly expand the categories of aid that would disqualify those wishing to come to the U.S., and could prevent some immigrants who are already here from receiving green cards. The rule change would add Medicaid (with some exceptions), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, Federal Public Housing, Section 8 housing vouchers, and Section 8 Project Based rental assistance.
If enacted, the new rule would give negative points for families with children or seniors, those whose education or English-language skills are limited, those with poor credit histories, or large families. It also adds a means test that favors applicants with income of at least 250% of the federal poverty line (approximately $63,000 for a family of four), and gives negative ratings for incomes below 125% ($31,375 for a family of four).
MMCC opposes this dramatic departure from long-standing rules because immigration has built and strengthened America for centuries. This change could endanger children and families already here by discouraging them from seeking medical, housing, and food assistance. The United States has been a country that welcomes immigrants regardless of socio-economic status or incomes. These rules will favor immigrants from developed countries with incomes at par or above those of United States, and will leave behind well-deserving immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, even if they earn a “middle class income” in their countries now.
Our membership covers Eastern Maine, a very rural area of the state. The average age of individuals in Maine is 44.2, the oldest in the country, and one of the lowest unemployment rates (2.9%) in the country. Many positions in Maine right now are not filled, and anecdotally we hear of our businesses not growing or even closing down because they cannot find employees. As baby-boomers retire over the next 10 years, this will only become worse. If Maine is to continue to grow, all sectors of the state, including the business community, agree that we must attract new people to our state. Otherwise, our population is expected to start to shrink in 2020 and, with it, our potential for continued economic growth. We in Maine need every tool to attract immigrants to start jobs today. The change in the public charge rule will only make it harder for Maine and Maine’s employers to attract hardworking immigrants or “New Mainers” to keep our economy going.
Most who arrive in a new place, particularly those with children, need a transition time in which they may not immediately appear to have the resources USCIS is seeking. We welcome young families with children to come to our state, as a long-term solution to our coming population decline, for their children to grow-up, learn, graduate from our great colleges, universities, and community colleges and eventually secure well-paying jobs that need filling.