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Trump is redefining who can access a green card and in so doing, prioritizing money over family unity.

No matter where we come from, we all want the same things for our families – food, shelter, and a healthy environment for our children – and we work hard to provide them. Most of us believe that how we contribute to our community, not what we have in our wallet, should be what defines us.

Yet, the Trump administration is proposing a regulation that would penalize and exclude a low-income immigrant from reuniting with family and gaining residency in the US.

Trump is redefining who can be labelled a “public charge.” The proposed revamp would radically expand what counts against applicants for legal permanent residency (i.e., green cards) to include health, nutrition, and housing benefits. It would also impose new income tests, making immigration a pay-to-play scheme and putting the wealthy ahead of families who’ve waited years to be reunited.

The proposed change will especially harm children.

The changes force eligible individuals who access critical health and nutrition programs to choose between obtaining legal permanent resident status and their family’s wellbeing. Individuals that put their children first risk losing their legal work authorization and being separated from their family.

While this rule has yet to be finalized, its resounding impact and chilling effects are already being felt in our communities. It is no accident that an earlier leaked draft of this proposed regulation sparked fear and panic about using public benefits and how it could impact an individual’s visa or green-card eligibility; it is also no accident that it prompted many to withdraw from social safety net programs for which they are eligible.

Currently, 5.8 million U.S. citizen children with at least one noncitizen parent have health coverage through Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). While CHIP is not part of the proposed rule change, the administration is seeking public comment on whether it should be included in the final rule. Meanwhile, 1.8 million households with at least one participating U.S. citizen child living with a noncitizen adult utilize SNAP. For these millions of children, the use of such programs is associated with fewer hospitalizations, lower health care costs, greater academic achievement, higher earnings, among other positive long-term outcomes that last throughout adulthood. Loss of health coverage and access to healthy, nutritious foods will undoubtedly lead to increased hunger and negative health outcomes. That might force some breadwinners to cut their hours and earn less pay, which, without housing assistance (also on the proposed rule’s expansive list), could leave some families homeless.

In short, the proposed regulation change will make the U.S. a sicker, hungrier and poorer nation and children will be disproportionately hurt.

Restricting the use of such benefits builds on the atrocious attacks that we have witnessed by this administration: the rescission of DACA, the negligent response to Hurricane Maria, the traumatic separation of families at the border, among many others.

We must recognize these attacks as what they are: attempts to divide and distract. Trump is pointing at new immigrants so we look away from efforts to give more to the already rich and pass cuts to social programs we all rely on.

Tax reform is already contributing to higher deficits and creating an opportunity for some politicians to call for spending cuts. Results of the midterm elections have, for now, diffused attempts to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. But major budget issues will have to be resolved by next fiscal year, beginning in October of 2019. The more we allow President Trump to shame and blame new immigrants, the better positioned he’ll be to push through cuts to programs that we all count on.

We are an increasingly diverse nation. By 2050, an estimated one in three children in the U.S. will be Latino (many of them the sons and daughters of new immigrants). Given that America’s future is in their hands, we can only make the country stronger by rejecting attempts to divide us. Ensuring that this new generation has access to adequate food, health care, and shelter ensures a healthier future for all of us, no matter what we look like, how long we’ve been here, or what’s in our wallets.

When Trump has gone too far we’ve fought back – and won. Let’s do that again. The federal government is accepting public comments on Trump’s new regulation up until December 10th. Join your voice with the over one hundred thousand people who have already submitted comments against the proposed change. Visit protectingimmigrantfamilies.org to submit your public comment.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column is from the Commonwealth Fund.

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