Advocates for immigrants and their families are pushing back against a proposed rule from the Trump administration that could affect who stays in the country—either temporarily or permanently.
“We believe that this rule will have a negative impact on the health and wellbeing of children and families both in this state and across the country,” warned physician Dr. Rebecca Bell of the University of Vermont Medical Center.
The Trump administration is now proposing to block lawful immigrants from getting visas or green cards if they’ve ever relied on certain benefits including food stamps or public housing assistance.
Advocates are concerned such a rule could lead to people forgoing nutrition for their families or other basic needs in order to not run afoul of immigration policies.
Eve Dolkart is a U.S. citizen living in Burlington who married a man from Central America. They met while Dolkart was doing poverty aid work there, she said.
Because the couple needed temporary help with food when Dolkart lost work, she said she worried her spouse’s residency re-certification could be in jeopardy if the White House proposal takes effect.
“It’s dehumanizing,” Dolkart said in an interview with necn about the proposed federal rule change. “The scariest thing was feeling like we could lose each other. I would move back to Guatemala to live with my husband to have our family stay together.”
In statements read at a press conference Friday by representatives of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, both senators described the Trump administration proposal as harsh and accused the White House of “demonizing” immigrants.
For its part, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security wrote on its website that it merely wants to reaffirm existing policies, noting that personal finances were a common reason for turning away immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the move is designed to “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
Refugees would be exempt, DHS noted.
A coalition of Vermont groups that calls food and housing basic human rights, and considers immigrants vital to Vermont communities and the economy, are now fighting back against the proposal.
“We need to restore our humanity,” said Cindy Reid of the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition.
“This administration has shown again and again that it wants to keep immigrants out of this country, and not provide them with basic needs,” added Jessica Radboard of Vermont Legal Aid.
Radboard pointed out the proposal is not in effect currently, and would not be retroactive if it ever does take effect.
The coalition encouraged the public to weigh in on the proposal with online comments to the government, which can be submitted until Dec. 10.