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Bridgeport, Chinatown, McKinley Park

As Chinatown Residents Panic Over Latest Trump Immigration Crackdown, Forum Offers Advice

In Chinatown, misinformation about a new Trump policy has already had a chilling effect. A forum Monday will provide much-needed answers.

On Monday, Nov. 26, Illinois State Rep. Theresa Mah (2nd) will host a forum in Chinatown to educate residents and help them combat the Department of Homeland Security’s new public charge proposal.
Flickr/Diana Schnuth
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CHINATOWN — The latest Trump administration immigration crackdown could hit Chicago’s Chinese community hard — and lawmakers are working to ensure people know their rights before they make decisions based on fear or misinformation. 

On Monday, Nov. 26, Illinois State Rep. Theresa Mah (D-2nd) will host a forum in Chinatown to educate residents and help them combat the Department of Homeland Security’s new public charge proposal, which could have wide-reaching consequences for the neighborhood’s immigrant population. The workshop, which will include a translator for Chinese-speaking residents, will take place from 8-10 a.m. at the Pui Tak Center, 2218 S. Wentworth Ave.

This proposed legislation, which was added to the Federal Register on Oct. 10, seeks to expand the definition of a “public charge,” which is what the federal government deems a person who is likely to be dependent on government assistance long term. This designation can lead to immigrants being denied entry into the United States or denied legal permanent resident (or “green card”) status.

In its current state, the public charge test only considers cash assistance — in the form of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income and General Assistance — or longterm institutionalization at the government expense.

But the Department of Homeland Security, which has come under fire for its family separation policy, is now looking to expand the list of government benefits that could harm an immigrant’s ability to get a green card. Under the new proposal, this list would also include Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (food stamps), non-emergency Medicaid, public housing and housing assistance (including Section 8 vouchers) and Medicare Part D (low-income subsidies).

Critics of the policy fear that immigrants could be forced to choose between staying or getting into the U.S. and going without the social service help they need. The Fiscal Policy Institute estimates that 24 million people, including some legal immigrants who would not actually be targeted by the change, could feel the effect of the policy. 

Mah said she believes education is necessary in reducing the concern the proposal has already caused in the Chinatown community.

“I think that a lot of people are making decisions about their health care and access to public assistance based on misinformation,” she said. “And we first and foremost want to let people know that this is simply a proposal at this point and that there is also an opportunity to submit public comments to the Federal Register so that they might have an impact on whether the proposal is in fact accepted and implemented.”

The proposal is subject to a 60-day period for public comment, after which the government is required to review and respond to every unique comment received about the policy.

From there, the Department of Homeland Security would make any potential revisions to the original proposal and then issue a final new public charge rule with an effective date. Protecting Immigrant Families, an advocacy organization and collaborator for the workshop, offers an online form for people to submit public comments (only in English) by the Dec. 10 deadline.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, will lead Monday’s forum. He believes that the proposal, if implemented, would have devastating effects on Chinatown residents and immigrant populations as a whole.

“The new rule essentially guts family-based immigration by excluding immigrants whom the federal government believes are not young enough (over 61), not wealthy enough, not healthy enough, not skilled or formally educated enough, or not fluent enough in English,” Tsao said in an email to Block Club, referencing additional factors that would be weighted in the new public charge test.

“[This proposal] ignores the way that immigrant families support each other as they adjust to life in the U.S. and instead looks only at the immigrants themselves, many of whom have lacked work and educational opportunities in their home countries and yet are willing and able to contribute to U.S. society.”

The importance of extended families within the Chinese community and other immigrant communities cannot be overstated, Tsao said. Relatives often provide child care for working parents or help with family businesses.

“Anything that limits the ability of families to reunite will diminish their ability and the ability of their community to flourish,” he said. 

Mah’s office expects a turnout of at least 200 Chinatown residents at the workshop, having invited many of the english as a second language students taking classes at the Pui Tak Center. The event will include Fred Tsao’s presentation, with Chinese translations available, and instructions on how to submit public comments for the Department of Homeland Security to individually address.

At the end, people can write comments in the language of their choice, and volunteers will transcribe them into English and submit on their behalf.