The Washington Post - 13.08.2019

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by also including SNAP (or food
stamps), federal housing assis-
tance and the use of Medicaid
beyond long-term care for adults
who are not pregnant.
“They are extending the defini-
tion of ‘public charge’ to include
programs that people often re-
ceive to supplement their low
earnings,” Parrott said. “It is based
on a vision of immigrants not
being contributors to the country.
It fails to recognize that immi-
grants today, just like in the past,
do important but low-paid jobs,
and that they and their children
experience upward mobility.”
Mark Krikorian, executive di-
rector of the Center for Immigra-
tion Studies, a Washington think
tank that seeks to reduce immi-
gration levels, praised the new
rule for restricting the potential
immigrant pool to the most high-
ly educated, who will thrive in a
“modern, knowledge-based econ-
“There are hundreds of mil-
lions of people who want to move
to the United States, and this rule
ensures that we allow in only
those who will be able to pay their
own bills,” Krikorian said.
The new rule stands to have its
most dramatic impact on the
numbers and demographics of
those permitted to immigrate to
the United States through a vast
array of new criteria to assess
whether an individual is “likely”
to someday become a public
Factors that can count against
a green-card applicant include
having “a medical condition” that
will interfere with work or school;
not having enough money to cov-
er “any reasonably foreseeable
medical costs” related to such a
medical condition; having “finan-
cial liabilities;” having been ap-
proved to receive a public benefit,
even if the individual has not
actually received the benefit; hav-
ing a low credit score; the absence
of private health insurance; the
absence of a college degree; not
having the English-language
skills “sufficient to enter the job
market;” or having a sponsor who
is “unlikely” to provide financial

members would be deemed ineli-
gible to enter or remain in the
“There is a sense, particularly
under this administration, that
the rules are always changing and
the rules are stacked against im-
migrants,” said Sharon Parrott,
senior vice president for federal
policy and program development
at the Center on Budget and Pol-
icy Priorities. “The message com-
ing out of the federal government
is, you can be in immigration
jeopardy if you receive benefits
that Congress says you’re eligible
For decades, immigrants have
been subject to a more narrow
“public charge” test. Officials de-
termined whether an immigrant
is relying on or likely to rely on
government assistance for more
than half their cash income by
looking at three main sets of ben-
efits — TANF (or traditional cash
welfare), Supplemental Security
Income and a Medicaid program
that pays for long-term care.
The Trump administration is
broadening the benefits used — or
likely to be used in the future — to
determine whether someone is
likely to become a “public charge”

the family members of U.S. citi-
zens who receive benefits, USCIS
officials said, so a parent of a U.S.
citizen would not be deemed inel-
igible on the basis of the child’s
receipt of housing assistance or
subsidized food. The policy would
not apply to humanitarian pro-
grams for refugees and asylum
Other types of public benefits
will be excluded from consider-
ation, USCIS officials said, includ-
ing student loans, school-based
programs such Head Start, and
Medicaid for minors and preg-
nant women.
USCIS officials said the revised
standards would apply to nearly
400,000 people seeking to adjust
their immigration status per year,
but the agency did not have an
estimate of the total number of
immigrants who would potential-
ly be denied residency and other
Advocates for immigrant
rights said Monday that hundreds
of thousands of immigrants are
likely to forgo or withdraw from a
federal assistance program they
are legally entitled to receive
amid fears that their families
could be separated because some

ly to become one.
If U.S. officials determine an
immigrant is likely to become a
public charge, that already is
grounds for denial of a green card.
The State Department has its own
screening measures to determine
eligibility for those seeking U.S.
Critics of the administration
blasted the change as a backdoor
effort to slash immigration levels.
“With one regulation, they are
attempting to scratch two itches:
One is penalizing immigrants for
using public benefits that they are
legally entitled to, and the other is
cutting legal immigration in half,”
said Doug Rand, a former Obama
administration official and co-
founder of Boundless Immigra-
tion. “And the way you cut legal
immigration in half is by kicking
the doors out from the definition
of ‘likely to become a public
charge.’ ”
USCIS officials said the policy
will not be applied retroactively
to those who have used benefits in
the past; it will apply only to those
who receive taxpayer-funded ben-
efits after the rule takes effect in
The rule also will not apply to

on the condition of anonymity
because the official was not au-
thorized to speak publicly.
But advocates for immigrants
say the new rule could narrow the
pool of people who are eligible for
green cards, which are necessary
to get on the path to U.S. citizen-
ship, effectively blocking immi-
grants who live in poverty from
having a chance at naturalization.
Naturalization applications
spiked during the 2016 presiden-
tial campaign, which some called
the “Trump effect” because many
immigrants were eager to vote.
Cuccinelli said the change
would benefit U.S. taxpayers by
selecting better candidates for
U.S. citizenship, ensuring “that
our immigration system is bring-
ing people to join us as American
citizens, as legal permanent resi-
dents first, who can stand on their
own two feet, who will not be
reliant on the welfare system —
especially in the age of the mod-
ern welfare state, which is so
expansive and expensive, frankly.”
The rule circumvents earlier,
failed efforts by the administra-
tion to build support in Congress
for a similar “merit-based” over-
haul to the immigrant visa sys-
tem, and it fulfills a longtime goal
of senior Trump adviser Stephen
Miller and other immigration
hawks who have sought new tools
to reduce immigration levels.
USCIS approved more than
638,000 green-card applicants in
2018, a five-year high. The State
Department issued an additional
533,000 immigration visas last
year to applicants abroad, mostly
to family members of U.S. citizens
and legal residents.
The policy change has been
under development for more than
a year and drew a record number
of public comments — more than
200,000 — during that phase of
the federal rulemaking process.
Miller grew impatient and
blamed former USCIS director L.
Francis Cissna for not moving
faster to implement it. The White
House replaced Cissna with Cuc-
cinelli in June.
The 837-page rule, whose
length Cuccinelli compared to
“War and Peace,” focuses on the
obscure definition of what it
means to be a “public charge,” or
someone dependent on U.S. gov-
ernment benefits, and who is like-

government’s definition of “pub-
lic charge” — and who is deemed
likely to become one.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting di-
rector of U.S. Citizenship and Im-
migration Services, said at a
White House briefing that his
agency is seeking to bring preci-
sion to an existing tenet of law
that has lacked a clear definition.
“Through the public charge
rule, President Trump’s adminis-
tration is reinforcing the ideals of
self-sufficiency and personal re-
sponsibility, ensuring that immi-
grants are able to support them-
selves and become successful
here in America,” said Cuccinelli,
evoking his family’s Italian ances-
try to characterize previous gen-
erations of immigrants as boot-
strap pullers. “This administra-
tion is promoting our shared his-
tory and encouraging the core
values needed to make the Ameri-
can Dream a reality.”
The move is part of the Trump
administration’s systematic effort
to add new bureaucratic obstacles
to the U.S. immigration system at
the same time the president
wants to put physical barriers
along the Mexico border. The ad-
ministration has slashed the
number of refugees admitted to
the United States, tightened ac-
cess to the asylum system and
expanded the power of the gov-
ernment to detain and deport
immigrants who lack legal status.
Analysts say the public charge
change could dramatically reduce
family-based legal immigration
to the United States, particularly
from Latin America and Africa,
where incomes are generally low-
er than the rest of the world. It
also could lead to an increase in
deportations, as those present
with some form of provisional or
temporary immigration status in
the United States are denied legal
A USCIS official said the
change will have little to no effect
on those who already have perma-
nent resident status who are seek-
ing to become naturalized U.S.
citizens. “Naturalization appli-
cants are not subject to a new
admissibility determination and
therefore are not generally sub-
ject to public charge determina-
tions,” said the official, who spoke


Change would skew policy in favor of highly skilled, high-income immigrants

A Trump official said the “public charge” change aims at “reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency.”


mcallen, tex. — Dozens of
dirt-caked shoes popped out
from beneath the silver Mylar
blankets, where children lie on
mats, watching cartoons, and
parents cooed infants to sleep.
Inside the chain-link pens of U.S.
Border Patrol’s largest holding
facility, nearly 1,300 migrants
were waiting Monday to be re-
leased, deported or transferred.
Set up in a converted ware-
house during the 2014 child mi-
grant crisis, the Central Process-
ing Center was created as an
overflow site for families and
children. But in recent months it,
too, has been stuffed beyond
capacity. Derided as “la perrera”
— “the dog kennel” — by mi-
grants and border agents alike, it
was the focus of public anger
when photographs of children
behind the chain links circulated
last year and brought accusations
of “kids in cages.”
More waves of shock and anger
at scenes of miserable, inhumane
border conditions have followed,
most recently last month when
Vice President Pence visited the
McAllen border station nearby
and saw nearly 400 men packed
in a pestilent garage.
The Department of Homeland
Security tightly limits media ac-
cess and photography inside Bor-
der Patrol facilities, citing the
privacy rights of migrants in its
custody. But the restrictions have
made it difficult for the agency to
convince the public that the bor-
der is in crisis, and the Trump
administration has allowed more
video cameras and photogra-
phers inside its facilities, even
though the images of detained
children often generate anger
and disgust.
The number of people in cus-
tody fluctuates daily — and some-
times hourly — at the processing
center, as hundreds of thousands
of adults and children from El
Salvador, Honduras and Guate-
mala continue arriving at the
U.S.-Mexico border despite the
scorching summer weather.
Movement is constant inside the
rancid — though much improved
— facility, with bus loads of immi-
grants being moved in and out of
the border city.
Arrests along the Southern
border have dropped 43 percent
since May, when U.S. agents took
144,000 migrants into custody,
the busiest month in a dozen
years. But border-crossings are

still at twice the level they were
last year, and the tip of South
Texas remains the busiest corri-
dor. Nearly 37,000 people were
apprehended in the Rio Grande
Valley sector last month, U.S.
data shows.
“We want to give folks a sense
of what is going on down here,”
said Border Patrol agent Marceli-
no “Alex” Medina.

Inside the cavernous pair of
warehouses in Southwestern
McAllen, migrants are medically
screened for common ailments
and contagious diseases such as
scabies, lice or chickenpox. Those
needing medical help beyond ba-
sic services are sent to local
hospitals, agents said.
Workers have access to face
masks and gloves when entering

one of two large containment
areas, although the center is not
immune from contagious diseas-
es; the processing center had an
outbreak of an influenza-like ill-
ness in late May that led Border
Patrol to stop admitting people
until the infections died down.
Once medically cleared, mi-
grants are sent into holding pens.
The center has seen tens of thou-

sands of children and families
since 2014.
Unaccompanied children are
separated by gender and kept in
distinct pens, where they have
access to crackers, juice and
chips. A television runs program-
ming for all hours except meal-
times, and they can choose to don
provided sweatpants, T-shirts
and shoes.

“Children are held on average
about 26 hours in custody,” said
Oscar Escamilla, acting deputy
Border Patrol agent-in-charge,
who led a brief tour through the
center. There were fewer than
100 unaccompanied children in
Customs and Border Protection
custody at the time of the tour on
Monday — far from the peak a
few months ago, when children
were backed up in the immigra-
tion system and were crowded
into the agency’s facilities, some-
times for weeks.
During the tour, journalists
were not permitted to talk to the
migrants in custody, and most
shied away from the cameras.
Many retreated deeper within
their pens and turned away.
Parents with children are held
in separate enclosures, where
dozens of men and women sat on
metal benches or laid across gym
mats on the concrete floor. Esca-
milla said migrants receive
“shower wipes” or wet wipes
when they first arrive, and they
are permitted to take a shower
within 72 hours.
Tired men bounced little boys
on their knees, children munched
on apples and others hid beneath
blankets in the cell adjacent to a
play area with a plastic playpen
and a few toys. In one corner sat
shelving units filled with clothes,
baby formula, colorful tooth-
brushes and diapers.
Inside each section of cells, a
guard monitors camera footage
and keeps watch from a small
tower elevated about eight feet
from the ground. Escamilla said
the agency chose chain-link fenc-
ing because it allows more visibil-
ity for agents and can help cut
down on staffing needs.
Migrants can move freely with-
in their respective holding pens,
but unaccompanied minors, girls
over the age of 10 and small
children are assigned separate
fenced-in areas. Between each
holding area is a sanitation sta-
tion containing about a dozen
portable toilets and sinks that are
cleaned twice a day.
There was no escaping the foul
stench of days of accumulated
dirt, sweat and waste — even with
a far smaller number of detainees
than when lawmakers visited the
center in June and reported ram-
pant overcrowding and horrible

Nick Miroff in Washington
contributed to this report.

A glimpse into processing facility at heart of border crisis

Journalists were allowed access to the Central Processing Center in McAllen, Tex., on Monday, when nearly 1,300 migrants were being
held at the Border Patrol’s largest holding facility. Journalists were not allowed to speak to the migrants, who mostly shied from cameras.
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