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Daily Archives: December 10, 2018

Attorney General Shapiro Files Opposition to Trump Administration’s Latest Attack on Legal Immigration

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Proposed overhaul would force legal immigrants to risk their immigration status in order to access healthcare, housing and other programs

HARRISBURG – Attorney General Josh Shapiro, joined by 23 Attorneys General and Attorneys General-elect, today filed comments opposing President Trump’s latest effort to marginalize lawful immigrants in Pennsylvania and around the country. The Trump Administration has proposed an overhaul of so-called “public charge” rules that could make it easier to deny adjustment of status to legal immigrants, reject green card applications, or remove immigrants from the country if they utilize certain healthcare, nutrition or housing programs.

The Trump Administration’s proposed rule would drastically revise and expand the definition of “public charge” from ‘a person who is very likely to become primarily dependent on government services’, to a person who receives minimal public assistance for a relatively short period of time. This would mean that the percentage of non-citizens who use benefits that could be considered in a public-charge determination would expand from 3% to 47%.  The proposed rule could force lawful immigrants to make a difficult and inhumane choice: protect their immigration status, or risk it by accessing healthcare programs or other programs for which they are legally eligible.

“Once again, President Trump is attempting to implement a policy which will have devastating consequences for immigrants and put the health of immigrant children at risk,” said Attorney General Shapiro.  “This proposed rule change would effectively weaponize public assistance programs and harm the very people those programs were designed to help – most of whom are seeking a hand up to a better life, not a hand-out for the long term.  It’s time for this Administration to stop dividing Americans by attacking those who are most vulnerable.”

Attorney General Shapiro and his colleagues filed official comments today, co-written by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, explaining why the rule is both unlawful and bad policy that would cause significant harm to Pennsylvania, which is one of 25 states that account for 94% of all foreign-born individuals in families receiving benefits.  More than 167,000 children in Pennsylvania live in families that receive benefits, more than 80% of whom are U.S. citizens.

In addition to being bad public policy, Attorney General Shapiro believes that the proposed rule violates federal law because the Trump Administration has not presented appropriate evidence or analysis to justify the radical changes it has proposed. The proposed rule also violates Executive Orders governing the issuance of new regulations.

So-called “public charge” rules have existed in immigration law for several decades. They have been understood to allow governments to deny entry to potential immigrants who are likely to become “primarily dependent” on public assistance.  Once a lawful immigrant has been labeled a “public charge,” he or she may be unable to successfully apply for a green card or adjust immigration status, and may even be removed from the country.

The Trump Administration’s proposal would upend decades of established practice and make lawful immigration much more difficult by:

  • Greatly expanding the scope of services that can be considered in determining whether someone is likely to be “primarily dependent” on public assistance to include Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing assistance;
  • Significantly lowering the threshold for declaring someone a likely “public charge” to as low as $150 per month; and,
  • Potentially exposing immigrant children to being labeled a “public charge” if they are enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

In their comments, Attorney General Shapiro and his colleagues argue that the proposed changes will be “destabilizing, discriminatory, and will cause harm to immigration populations and to the States,” particularly with regard to healthcare costs, which can be expected to climb as immigrants avoid healthcare programs like Medicaid and instead seek expensive emergency care. For example, in the City of Philadelphia alone, more than 30,000 households with at least one immigrant resident utilize Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).   If experts are correct in predicting that this change will result in a 15-35% reduction in benefit enrollment rates among immigrant families, Pennsylvania will see more than 37,000 families lose access to health insurance, costing the Commonwealth $270 million in federal funds.  The proposed rule would also discriminate against people with disabilities and non-English speakers.

Joining Attorney General Shapiro in submitting today’s comments are the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, DC, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Washington DC, and the Attorneys General-elect of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Minnesota, and New York.

PARTNERSHIP CONSERVES 77 ACRES IN BERKS COUNTY

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HARRISBURG, PA – Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, The Conservation Fund, Berks Nature, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission have partnered to conserve vital acreage for migratory birds, announcing plans to protect and improve more than 77 acres of farmland located in the shadow of the Kittatinny Ridge in Berks County. These lands are being conserved, in part, by funding from Williams in connection with the construction and operation of the company’s Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline project.

“Cooperation is the keystone of smart conservation, especially when it comes to land,” says Bryan Burhans, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “This project will protect habitat for declining species such as the northern harrier, American kestrel, Eastern Meadowlark, bobolink, grasshopper sparrow and more.”

With assistance from Berks Nature and support from Williams through a grant provided by The Conservation Fund, the Sanctuary purchased the tract, which was under threat from developers. Working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the conservation partners developed a land improvement plan to convert the former fields into native grasslands and meadows. In turn, this work will support migratory birds and other wildlife and expand wildlife diversity and recreational opportunities.

“The Sanctuary is a significant economic driver, and partnering with the Game Commission provides more land for birdwatching, hunting, and hiking,” says Hawk Mountain President Sean Grace.

The Property has long been identified by state and local planning organizations as a top priority for protection due to its location at the base of the Kittatinny Ridge, a mega greenway and migration superhighway, as well as its adjacency to the Appalachian Trail and State Game Lands. To ensure public access, the property was transferred at signing to the Game Commission, as an addition to the adjacent State Game Lands106. Future plans include planting of grasses and other native species and addition of a parking area along Hawk Mountain Road.

“This is public-private partnership at its best,” said Williams Chief Operating Officer Micheal Dunn. “The Commonwealth identified the protection of this property as a top priority, so we are glad to have the opportunity to coordinate with our partners in the preservation of this important wildlife habitat.”

“Protecting this property is a win-win, both for the birds and for the people who enjoy wild places,” said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania Director for The Conservation Fund.

During spring and fall, more than 150 species of raptors and songbirds follow the Kittatinny Ridge or “Blue Mountain,” using habitats along its slope and base to rest and feed. The 2,500 acres at Hawk Mountain and the 9,000 acres of adjoining State Game Lands offer healthy habitats for forest wildlife, but field, riparian, and wetland species have declined.

Conservation of this property addresses a critical need for bird habitat locally and along the entire Ridge, as grassland and wetland birds are some of the fastest declining groups in Pennsylvania due to habitat loss. Insectivorous birds such as warblers, vireos, and flycatchers that depend upon the riparian areas or field edges will also benefit, and new foraging habitat will become available for bats, mammals, and migrating birds along with breeding areas for many amphibians.