In this op-ed, Western Center’s Director of Communications, Courtney McKinney, explores what it’s like to lobby to reduce hunger, improve access to affordable housing, and strengthen workers’ rights.
When Sharon Hechler started working in Arcadia, California as a cashier for the supermarket chain Albertsons 46 years ago, she never intended to make it her lifelong career.
“Then, I found out I loved it,” she told Civil Eats. “Once upon a time, it was a great job. We had some of the best pay, the best benefits. So, I thought I was set for life.”
That shifted when the variety of grocery store chains in Southern California “kept gobbling each other up,” Hechler said. “Now, there’s like two major companies, and they’re setting the tone for the consumer and the worker, and greed has set in.”
…“Grocery store workers make up one of the biggest groups of workers in California’s economy,” Bartholow said. “When they’re paid low [wages], the state feels the impact. I worked as a bagger, and we didn’t have a lot of money. It’s really hard seeing food come to your line and not being able to purchase [it].”
Several advocacy groups filed a lawsuit Friday to block the Trump administration’s recently finalized “public charge” rule, which would make it harder for legal immigrants to stay in the country.
The National Immigration Law Center, Western Center on Law and Poverty, National Health Law Program and Asian Americans Advancing Justice filed the complaint in a California federal court.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SAN FRANCISCO — Nonprofits serving immigrant communities and advocates for racial equity, health, children, farmworkers, and working families today filed suit to block implementation of the Trump administration’s “public charge” regulation, which threatens millions of immigrant families — disproportionally families of color. La Clínica de la Raza et al. v. Trump et al., filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, asks the court to declare the regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unlawful and unconstitutional. DHS finalized the regulation on August 14, 2019.
“The public charge regulation is an attack on the culturally diverse families we serve, threatening their health and their very lives,” said Jane Garcia, chief executive officer of La Clínica de La Raza. “We will stand with our patients and their families and fight this.”
In addition to La Clínica de la Raza, the suit was brought by African Communities Together, the California Primary Care Association, the Central American Resource Center, the Council on American Islamic Relations – California, Farmworker Justice, the Korean Resource Center, the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, and Maternal and Child Health Access. The plaintiffs are represented by the National Immigration Law Center, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles, the National Health Law Program and the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
The complaint argues that the regulation was motivated by racial bias against nonwhite immigrants and asks the court to strike it down as a violation of Equal Protection under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. As indicators of a motivating racial animus, the complaint cites the administration’s acknowledgement that the policy will have a disparate impact on families of color, President Donald Trump’s own racist statements, and his administration’s other racially-biased policies.
“Donald Trump pushed to execute innocent Black men wrongly accused of murder. He called the white supremacists in Charlottesville ‘very fine people.’ He slurred Black immigrants from Haiti and Nigeria. And he froze or cancelled protected status for immigrants from majority-Black countries. Donald Trump’s words and his actions have consistently targeted Black families,” said Amaha Kassa, founder and executive director of African Communities Together. “When Ken Cuccinelli, the man who signed this regulation, goes on the radio and says ‘not everyone has the right to be an American,’ Black families know exactly who he’s talking about.”
“This rule change is a direct attack on communities of color and their families, and furthers this administration’s desire to make this country work primarily for the wealthy and white. Our immigration system cannot be based on the racial animosities of this administration, or whether or not people are wealthy,” said Antionette Dozier, senior attorney at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
“This expansion of the rule is part and parcel of the administration’s crusade to instill fear in immigrant communities of color,” said Laboni Hoq, litigation director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA). “By including criteria such as English language proficiency as a negative factor for obtaining permanent residency, the administration is telling immigrants that they are not welcome here. This is unacceptable. Xenophobia has no place in our country, let alone our laws.”
Plaintiffs also assert that the regulation violates the Administrative Procedure Act because it is contrary to law and arbitrary and capricious. The complaint also argues that the regulation is invalid because the official who approved its publication, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, was appointed in violation of the Constitution’s Appointments Clause and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
More than 260,000 public comments were submitted on the draft regulation last fall, the vast majority in opposition. The regulation targets programs that serve whole families — Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Section 8 housing assistance — meaning its impact will extend well beyond immigrants directly affected. As a result, experts warn, the regulation will result in increases in hunger, unmet health and housing needs, and poverty. Because affected immigrants are overwhelmingly immigrants of color, the rule is also expected to widen racial disparities. Independent analysts estimate that the regulation threatens millions of people. A significant portion of those threatened by the regulation were born in the U.S., and nearly a third of those are children.
“This rule is a scare tactic designed to create fear and confusion in immigrant communities. The devastating effects will reach even further than the text of the rule itself, as immigrants and their families forgo vital food, housing, and health care services,” said Jane Perkins, legal director at the National Health Law Program.
La Clínica de la Raza and other plaintiffs are health care providers and other nonprofit organizations that seek to protect access to health care, nutrition, housing, and other government benefits for immigrants of color, regardless of their immigration status or financial means. The complaint asserts that the public charge regulation threatens their missions and the communities they serve.
“If the changes made to public charge are implemented, this will cause irrevocable damage to our communities. Deterring anyone from seeking public services that help them survive and support their families is inhumane,” said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, president and CEO of the California Primary Care Association. “We have an obligation to our patients and our communities to protect the rights of everyone, regardless of immigration status, which is why we are suing to stop the implementation of this rule.”
“The Trump administration has deliberately designed this policy to target families of color, which is part of its overall blueprint to change the face of what we look like as a nation and who is considered worthy of being an American. It threatens immigrants of color with exclusion and Americans of color with deprivation or family separation. And it aims to deny working-class immigrants of color the ability to thrive in the land of opportunity,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “We will not stand for it. We’re fighting back against this racist policy, and we’re going to win the fight to protect immigrant families.”
A recording the conference call regarding this filing is available at https://www.nilc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/public-charge-lawsuit-2019-08-16.mp3.
National Immigration Law Center: Hayley Burgess, 202-384-1279, firstname.lastname@example.org
Western Center on Law & Poverty: Courtney McKinney, 214-395-2755, email@example.com
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles: Alison Vu, firstname.lastname@example.org
Roughly a quarter-million Californians might not qualify for food stamps under a new proposal by the Trump administration, opponents of the proposal said the move will affect families who already struggle financially.
…Jessica Bartholow is the lead Anti-Hunger Policy Advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty, she said about 250,000 Californians will lose their Cal Fresh assistance.
“They will experience hunger,” Bartholow said. “The most recent proposal by the Trump administration would make the program more difficult to reach people who are working, people who have children in their household.”
The Trump administration has announced a new rule on the issue of Public Charge; it is a blatant attempt to bar immigrants of color who are not wealthy from accessing pathways to lawful permanent residence, like obtaining a visa or green card.
Since our country’s inception, people from all over the world have come to the U.S. in search of better opportunity – including the Trump family. Historically, Public Charge has been weaponized against various immigrant groups to feed one of the most harmful American habits, which is to stoke an “us vs. them” mentality, rather than to harness our diversity to build stronger communities, and a stronger country.
The rhetoric and actions of this administration are wreaking havoc, posing physical and psychological threats to communities across the country. The publication of this rule further asserts the racist ideology that says this country should be accessible only to white, wealthy people.
To be clear: this is an attack on communities of color, and we will not stand for it.
As we laid out in our December comments opposing the rule, this move is not only harmful in the short run, it will also have detrimental long-term effects for individuals and entire communities, and will drive people “into the shadows, dramatically decrease public health and well-being, and destabilize families.” Additionally, “Western Center has never supported the concept of public charge due to its history in racial discrimination and because it exacerbates racial disparities, its devaluation of human dignity particularly of those who are aged or disabled, and its blatant bias against low-income people.”
By implementing this new, radical version of the Public Charge rule, the Trump administration is continuing its destructive path to harm not only immigrant families, but also the communities they are an integral part of. In a state like California, where immigrants make up over a quarter of the population, this rule all but ensures a weaker future, which is why we will move forward in court to stop its implementation.
At this point, it is beyond frustrating that we have to keep playing defense to such harmful, illegal actions by the Trump administration when we as a nation face so many existential challenges that require collective, focused action. The administration’s fixation on racist, classist, and divisive policies takes all of our attention away from what should be the united goal of building a healthier country for everyone who lives here. Since this administration is uninterested in real leadership that could actually “Make America Great,” we are proud to work with community leaders, state leaders, and in the courts to defend our vision for what this country can and should be.
NOTE: The final rule is not yet in effect. It will become effective this October, unless litigation succeeds in halting it. For more information, you can:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a new proposal that would change SNAP eligibility requirements — and some argue that it may have an outsized impact on Californians…
Angela Rachidi, research fellow in poverty studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) whose expertise includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs
Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate for the LA-based Western Center on Law and Poverty, an advocacy organization for low income Californians; chair of the California Asset Building Coalition, a non-profit that aims to help Californians achieve economic self-sufficiency
A Trump administration proposal would cut food stamps to 3.1 million Americans—largely working families with high housing, childcare and medical costs. That could hit hard in California, a state where both the cost of living and the minimum wage are on the rise.
…“It’s clear that states like California are a target on this,” said Jessica Bartholow, a policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty.
By Richard Rothschild, Director of Litigation
The past month has seen a remarkable number of decisions in Western Center cases — mostly good, some not great. Below is a rundown, from favorable to less favorable. To learn about more of our cases, take a look at our case docket.
BACKGROUND: The California DMV was automatically suspending driver’s licenses of low-income traffic defendants who were referred by courts for “willful” failure to pay fines, without determining their ability to pay.
DECISION: As this suit progressed, the Legislature abolished license suspensions for failure to pay, but DMV continued to insist for many months that existing suspensions would not be lifted.
A judge has awarded attorneys’ fees on the case.
IMPACT: The court awarded the fees for our advocacy on the issue, and hundreds of thousands of Californians have had their licenses restored.
BACKGROUND: Los Angeles County was illegally terminating Medi-Cal recipients from rolls because of a backlog in processing annual renewal forms.
DECISION: The County of LA has tentatively agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Board of Supervisors approval. In the underlying suit, the court ruled that the County could not terminate benefits for Medi-Cal recipients who had filled out their renewal forms in a timely fashion, deeming the County’s practice an “institutional failure.”
IMPACT: Thousands of LA Medi-Cal recipients restored to Medi-Cal rolls, restoring access to health care.
BACKGROUND: The State placed an arbitrary monetary cap on coverage for a program that keeps people with severe disabilities at home and out of institutions. We argued that the cap violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
DECISION: The State has agreed to pay attorneys’ fees, subject to Legislative approval.
IMPACT: The suit resulted in lifting of Department of Health Care Services-imposed arbitrary cost caps on people with major physical disabilities, which threatened institutionalization (much costlier than in-home care).
BACKGROUND: “The evidence presented in the trial court showed that, beginning in late 2013 and early 2014, there were delays in the determination of applications for Medi-Cal benefits. Evidence submitted by plaintiffs showed that, in some cases, delays in determining eligibility had severe consequences for applicants who did not obtain needed medical care.”
DECISION: The trial court in Rivera ordered the Department of Health Care Services to decide all non-disability Medi-Cal applications within 45 days as mandated by federal law. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the State acts legally as long as it decides at least 90 percent of applications within the 45-day period. We are petitioning for review.
IMPACT: Thanks to earlier victories in the case, hundreds of thousands of applicants have received timely benefits.
BACKGROUND: “CalWORKs applicant, Angie Christensen, lives with her husband and her children. Her husband is the noncustodial parent of additional children, and court-ordered child support is garnished from his income for the benefit of these children who do not live in the applicant’s home. Counting the garnished amounts as nonexempt income to the applicant’s family, San Mateo County determined the family’s income was too high to qualify for CalWORKs cash aid and denied the application.”
DECISION: The California Supreme Court held that for the purposes of determining CalWORKs (public assistance) eligibility, the State can count a husband’s wages and unemployment garnished to pay for children in another family as income in his current household.
IMPACT: This is a challenge for low-income households in California, because it bars access to CalWORKs for families whose incomes exceed limits before taking into account payments a parent makes to a separate household, which are resources children in the household where the parent resides can’t benefit from.
BACKGROUND: Petitioners had their welfare and CalFresh food stamp benefits electronically stolen while their benefit cards remained in their physical possession. The State reimbursed loss of cash benefits, but refused to reimburse for CalFresh loss.
DECISION: A Superior Court judge has ruled that the CalFresh recipient, whose benefits were stolen electronically through no fault of his own, cannot recoup the value of his lost benefits. We are planning to appeal.
IMPACT: This decision leaves other food stamp beneficiaries vulnerable to the insecurity of being unable to recoup loss from electronic theft.