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Homeless families suffer the most under ‘public charge’ rule

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Last month the administration started enforcing its “public charge” rule, adding another volume to the Trump administration’s legacy of destroying immigrant families. As a result of Trump’s new rule, no community within the immigrant population will suffer more harm in the pursuit of legal status than immigrant families experiencing homelessness. 

I serve the homeless families and children of San Francisco — many are led by single mothers, many of whom are fleeing or grappling with domestic violence; many are families of color; many are immigrants; many experiences all of these identities intersectionally. 

Over the last four years, serving our immigrant families has become increasingly difficult. The task of supporting mothers who only wish to care for and make a good life for their children too often requires a miracle. No family better illustrates this than Dolores and her son Alex (names changed for safety concerns). 

Dolores and her 9-year-old son, Alex had no choice but to flee the poverty and violence of Honduras after Alex lost the ability to walk and Dolores’ husband Mauricio was murdered. With her life savings and her wheel-chair-bound son, Dolores made it to the Arizona border. 

There the two were apprehended, separated, and detained in chain-link cages for almost two months. Dolores had a relative in San Francisco who helped reunite them. They came to the Bay Area to await trial. Homeless, my organization provided them housing support and did our best to support her leading up to the trial. 

Wearing an ankle monitor, Dolores pushed her son’s wheelchair into a spacious San Francisco Federal Courtroom, praying for the chance to stay in the United States. As the judge called the meeting to order, all stood — even her son Alex who though unable to walk could stand with some effort, if only for a moment. 

This day was a dream of Dolores as well as a nightmare. Dolores lives with PTSD and has nightmares most nights where she relives some of the horrors of Honduras, her painful journey to the United States, and the trauma of being separated from her child for months in a DHS detention facility. These nightmares were the primary subject of the trial as her only chance of survival was to relive them. 

Fortunately, it worked. Dolores was granted an allowance to stay in the United States for 12 months and apply for a green card. Small victories like this remind me that life can change in an instant. Now there’s just one more problem. Dolores will need to go hungry for the next 12 months so she can remain eligible for a Green Card. 

The Trump administration has given the Department of Homeland Security the discretion to label Dolores and her son Alex “public charges,” because they use food stamps. Their chances of becoming citizens will be severely reduced as a consequence. Dolores is now forced to make a cruel choice between the value of citizenship and the wellbeing of her family. 

The new rule will punish poor immigrants who seek relief through federal anti-poverty programs for which they are legally entitled to service. The poorer you are, the harder the new rule will hit you. So within the family unit, since income is distributed equally across each member, families are inherently ranked poorest. According to a recent analysis by the UC Berkeley Interdisciplinary Migration Initiative, “if a family drops out of SNAP, it will be like losing about two months of salary.” 

This policy will do nothing but harm, but maybe that’s the point. At the end of the day, these families are not going anywhere. Dolores and Alex are here. Increasing their unnecessary suffering will only make us all worse off. The president is not making us stronger by getting rid of “bad hombres;” he is dividing families. He is not tossing out the ‘bad apples;’ he’s stealing the dreams of children. The new “public charge” rule isn’t protecting us; it’s destroying who we are. 

Anthony R. Carrasco grew up through 10 years of homelessness as a child and now designs public policy for one of the oldest homeless service providers in San Francisco — Compass Family Services. During his evenings, he serves on the City of Berkeley’s Homeless Services Panel of Experts.


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