SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — California lawmakers are sounding the alarm on proposed changes to U.S. immigration rules that would make it tougher for some immigrants who receive welfare benefits to stay in the U.S.

On Monday, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) surrounded by colleagues, announced he’s introducing a resolution “calling on the Federal Government to stop these dangerous proposed changes that target our vulnerable communities.”

Under current federal law, “any alien who…is likely at any time to become a public charge” is “ineligible to receive visas and ineligible to be admitted to the United States.” (8 U.S. Code § 1182(a).)

The key question is: what is a public charge?

Since 1999, it’s been defined as anyone who gets public cash benefits or needs a government run long-term care facility. According to USCIS, only a few hundred people per year are denied admission because they are not self-sufficient.

Under the new proposal, a person is a “public charge” if they receive public benefits values at more than 15 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines for a household of one for more than 12-36 consecutive months. (In 2018, the FPG per month for a household of one is $1,012, so 15% is $151.80.)

The public benefits that would be considered go beyond just cash benefits to include food stamps, housing subsidies and some Medicaid.

Here’s a link to the full Government proposal:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/10/10/2018-21106/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds

Generally, the new rules would apply to people in the US on common visas for school, employment or tourism who are applying to stay longer than their visas permit. They would also apply to undocumented people who want to apply for legal status.

Undocumented people with children who are US citizens would not be penalized if their children receive benefits.

The new rules would not apply to people in the US on diversity or humanitarian visas – victims of crime, human trafficking, domestic abuse – or their families. Nor would they apply to refugees or asylum seekers.

The prospect of denying people legal status for using welfare prompted infuriated speeches today in Sacramento.

“This man is a racist,” said Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson) at the press conference, referring to President Trump.

“Time and time again, he has put forth racist policies to separate and divide Americans, whether you’re an immigrant or not.”

But Steve Camarota, Director of Research for the Center for Immigration Studies, says non-humanitarian immigration should benefit the United States, so we need to talk about whether we should be growing the ranks of people dependent on public benefits.

CIS recently released a study based on data from the Census Bureau showing “63 percent of households headed by a non-citizen reported that they used at least one welfare program, compared to 35 percent of native-headed households.”

In California, the numbers are 72 percent versus 35 percent.

“The high welfare use currently associated with immigrants is not the result of some sort of moral defect on the part of immigrants, but rather reflects their education levels,” said Camarota.

“In the modern American economy, people with low levels of education earn lower wages on average and thus qualify for these programs.” And with 40 million people in the US already living in poverty, “Adding to that by allowing immigrants who are poor and need these programs as well, I think to most people’s mind doesn’t make sense.”

Public comment on the proposed rule is open until Monday, December, 10.

Go here to submit your own formal comment:

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/10/10/2018-21106/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds

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