Pastor Antonio Velasquez says that before the Trump administration announced a crackdown on immigrants using government social services, people lined up before sunrise outside a state office in a largely Latino Phoenix neighborhood to sign up for food stamps and Medicaid.
“You had to arrive at 3 in the morning, and it might take you until the end of the day,” he said, pointing behind the office in the Maryvale neighborhood to show how long the lines got.
But no one lined up one recent weekday morning, and there were just a handful of people inside.
With new rules taking effect Monday that disqualify more people from green cards if they use government benefits, droves of immigrants, including citizens and legal residents, have dropped social services they or their children may be entitled to out of fear they will be kicked out of the U.S., said Velazquez and other advocates.
“This will bring more poverty, more homeless, more illness,” said Velasquez, a well-known leader among Spanish-speaking immigrants in the Phoenix area.
The guidelines that aim to determine whether immigrants seeking legal residency are likely to become a government burden are part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to reduce immigration, particularly among poorer people.
The rules that critics say amount to a “wealth test” were supposed to take effect in October but were delayed by legal challenges that allege the move violates due process under the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court last month cleared the way for the Trump administration to move forward while the legality of the rules are litigated in the courts.
A 5-4 vote Friday by the high court sided with the Trump administration by lifting a last injunction covering just Illinois. Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a blistering dissent, criticizing the administration for quickly turning to the Supreme Court after facing losses in lower courts.
The White House over the weekend expressed gratitude for that final vote, saying it would help “safeguard welfare programs for truly needy Americans, reduce the federal deficit, and re-establish the fundamental legal principle that newcomers to our society should be financially self-reliant and not dependent on the largess of United States taxpayers.”
Federal law already requires those seeking to permanent residency or legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. — a “public charge,” in government lingo. But the new rules include a wider range of programs that could disqualify them, including using Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
“Self-sufficiency is a core American value and has been part of immigration law for centuries,” Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy Homeland Security secretary, said last month. “By requiring those seeking to come or stay in the United States to rely on their own resources, families and communities, we will encourage self-sufficiency, promote immigrant success and protect American taxpayers.”