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Public charge rule is a cruel attack on children

The Trump administration marked this year’s first day of fall with an outrageous new proposal, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” that will further harm already vulnerable immigrant children and families. For the first time in our country’s history, an immigrant’s use of public benefits programs like Medicaid, food stamps and Section 8 housing, may become an important criterion of their green card and visa eligibility.

Previously, applicants were only at risk of being deemed a “public charge” if they received cash welfare or aid for long-term health care. The new rule would discriminate much more severely against applicants by broadening the definition of “public charge” to include reliance on virtually any public assistance, including the Medicare prescription drug benefit program.

{mosads}Currently there are thousands of immigrant children suffering in detention centers at the southern U.S. border and, despite a court order for reunification, about 500 children remain separated from their families. Their fates are in the balance should the proposed regulation stand against public scrutiny. Thankfully, the administration’s proposal faces a 60-day confirmation period before a final ruling is made. Officials like California Attorney General Xavier Becerra have already spoken out against the regulation.

As pediatricians and child advocates, we are frontline witnesses to the damage “public charge” would cause struggling children and families. When a similar draft of the law leaked in 2017, for example, we soon saw food insecure mothers in our clinics stop applying for benefits, fearing that use of public aid would negatively impact their case for political asylum or U.S. residency status. Trump’s expanded and punitive proposal against working-class immigrant families is already engendering a similar fear and people in need are beginning to decline government support.

Imposing harsh socioeconomic restrictions is the opposite of what America should be doing. We cannot and do not accept the Trump administration’s inhumane attack on the core values of our nation.

Instead, we call for an expansion of U.S. safety net policies. These programs provide vital services for millions of families in need — both those born and raised here and families new to our land. Medicaid provides impoverished children access to cost-effective interventions like preventive medical care and vaccinations, which enable children to grow, thrive and obtain medication so that they can stay healthy and ready to learn in school.

SNAP ensures that the 13 million U.S. children who live in a food insecure household will receive adequate nutrition. Section 8 housing vouchers provide shelter and safety for families with young children.

Health, food, education, housing — children are owed these basic human rights, enshrined in the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It is time that this country joins the rest of the world by giving children what is their right: the federal support they need to grow into healthy, engaged, productive citizens. When we take away the systems in place to help our youngest and most vulnerable, we rob the country of a healthy future and we leave our children stranded in the vicious cycle of poverty, unable to reach their potential.

Trump’s latest policy is a new chapter in a well-used, twisted playbook. The administration’s continued attacks on immigrant families have sickened and destroyed the health and wellbeing of untold numbers of children.

We strongly urge the administration to withdraw this harmful proposal. We must all use our voices on behalf of these children and speak out against the “public charge” rule’s toxic misrepresentation of our nation’s values.

Kimberly Mukerjee, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician affiliated with the New Orleans Children’s Health Project. Elizabeth Goodman, MD, MBA, is the chief medical officer of Children’s Health Fund. She also serves as the president of the MA Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Irwin Redlener, MD, president emeritus of Children’s Health Fund, is a pediatrician, child health advocate and recognized expert in disaster preparedness. He is the author of, “Americans At Risk: Why We Are Not Prepared For Megadisasters and What We Can Do Now.”