Our Opinion: Cruel targeting of legal immigrants

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The Trump administration unveiled Monday its latest volley toward the immigrant communities this president has demonized since the start of his campaign. This effort, a harsh reinterpretation of existing policy, expands his target toward those coming legally.

Under new guidelines, immigrants will be denied green cards if they use public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers, among other disqualifiers (Eagle, Aug. 13). Use of these programs will join education, income and health among the factors U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services weighs when considering legal status.

The change builds on existing law providing that immigrants not burden the country, known as a "public charge." The reality, however, is that refugees fleeing to our border are trying to escape poverty and violence, not collect food stamps. They are demonstrably here to work, and rather than "taking jobs" from Americans, they are taking the thankless, low-wage jobs that Americans don't want to do. The majority work, pay taxes and weave their myriad backgrounds into our local tapestries. If there are immigrants abusing the system, the White House must find a way to weed them out that doesn't involve applying a cudgel to all legal immigrants. The Berkshire Immigrant Center's director, Michelle Lopez, says it all: "Immigrants are the hardest working people in this country."

Critical to the shrinking Berkshires, immigrants represent a unique growth area. BIC says it serves between 700 and 800 people a year, from an immigrant community it pegs at 10,000 — about 8 percent of the county.

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Moreover, per the Associated Press, immigrants use public assistance programs at lower rates than native-born adults, yet repercussions for them will be outsized and dire.

The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, predicts as many as a half-million Bay Staters might stop seeking benefits they need out of fear it could endanger their legal status. This policy could do significant harm to some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

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The Eagle has repeatedly called out Trump's despicable anti-immigrant actions and rhetoric. These guidelines, which are perniciously rooted in an existing executive power, are simply the latest offense.

As ever, we second advocates' efforts to fight in the courts. Already, the National Immigration Law Center in California has promised a lawsuit. Attorneys general in that state and New York have threatened action, too. We encourage AG Maura Healey to explore similar efforts.

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As ever, we applaud BIC's work to make the Berkshires a welcoming place for immigrants, and encourage all Berkshirites to embrace that mission. Residents with questions or concerns on how these changes might affect them can contact info@berkshireic.org or 413-496-4881.

As ever, we encourage House Democrats to work to assert Congressional power and close gaps like the one the administration is exploiting here.

But, as ever, we acknowledge this change's root in Trump's continued assault on immigrants, with nativism and racism at its core. The acting CIS director, Ken Cuccinelli,said he was "certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty" when asked about Emma Lazarus' immortal poem that adorns its pedestal.

We all bear a responsibility to fight for America's better angels and ensure he and this administration aren't able to.


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