A new rule proposed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seeks to discriminate against immigrants already living in the United States if they currently receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The proposed rule change known as the “public charge” would require that immigrants who seek adjustment of status or a visa, or who are applicants for admission, must establish that they are not likely at any time to become a public charge, unless Congress has expressly exempted them from this ground of inadmissibility or has otherwise permitted them to seek a waiver of inadmissibility. In addition, DHS proposes to require all immigrants seeking an extension of stay or change of status to demonstrate that they have not received, are not currently receiving, nor are likely to receive, public benefits as defined in the proposed rule. The new rule in essence would punish immigrants if they receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by jeopardizing their ability to stay in the United States – hindering the ability of many food insecure Long Islanders to put food on their table. Federal nutrition programs like SNAP were designed by Congress to be there for all citizens and eligible legal immigrants when they fall on hard times. This rule undermines congressional intent and our longstanding federal commitment to helping those who struggle to have enough healthy food.
We are beginning to witness that this proposed new rule is creating fear and confusion that is dissuading immigrant communities in Nassau and Suffolk Counties from seeking assistance from their local food pantry, soup kitchen and other emergency food assistance programs, regardless of whether they are impacted by the rule – from seeking needed food in the first place. Many of these programs and services to feed the hungry are supported by Long Island Cares-The Harry Chapin Food Bank. As a result of Washington’s recent onslaught of executive orders, policy changes, and heightened fear of migrant caravans heading for the United States, food banks in the Feeding America network are already reporting that immigrant families they serve are becoming fearful of receiving any food assistance. Recent activities within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement services has already instilled fear among the immigrant population on Long Island, and several food pantries, churches and advocacy groups have reported that families are afraid to seek food assistance regardless of their immigration status for fears of being detained and deported.
Many immigrants living on Long Island are struggling just like their 272,000 neighbors in need of emergency food. Those who are here legally are working in low paying jobs within the hospitality, agriculture, and other service areas, and many are working 2-3 jobs to be able to afford to pay their rent, car insurance, healthcare and other necessities. They shouldn’t be afraid to seek assistance from their local food pantry, nor should they fear losing SNAP benefits. People receiving public benefits already live with the stigma associated with being poor. Taking away these benefits from people just because of their immigration status doesn’t seem to be what a democracy is all about. Many Long Islanders that are not immigrants receive SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, WIC, public assistance and other government benefits, and they’re not discriminated against by our government.
Congress needs to intervene to protect the rights of immigrants living in America legally, and those seeking asylum and protections here from countries where many fear for their lives. The proposed public charge is another form of discrimination towards people in need, and should be withdrawn now, and if this Congress won’t intervene, my hope is that the new Congress in 2019 will – before someone dies from hunger or malnutrition.