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Advocates Oppose Rule That Penalizes Immigrants For Needing Benefits


So we turn now to NPR's Pam Fessler, who's in the studio and was listening in on that conversation. I mean, Pam, I want to start by talking about the economic aspect of this. How big a concern is this new rule for particular industries that rely on immigrant labor?

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Well, this rule, when it was just proposed, got more than a quarter of a million comments, most of them opposed. And a lot of them were from businesses that rely on low-income immigrant labor. And one of the big examples I got was the home-care industry. Many of these aides are recent immigrants. It's not the kind of job that a lot of Americans want, but demand is really great. They're very low paid, but it means that they have to rely on some assistance, like food stamps and Medicaid, to survive. And they're just the kind of people who will be targeted by this rule.

And the industry warns if it goes - it's allowed to stand, there's going to be a serious shortage of home-care workers as the baby boomers age. This is just one small example of the opposition, though, to this rule.

MARTIN: Right. What else are you hearing from immigrants rights groups?

FESSLER: Well, the immigrants rights groups think that millions of immigrant families will be affected. They see it as part of a much broader campaign by the administration to limit not only illegal immigration but also legal immigration, something that they've not been able to get Congress to agree to do.

And we should point out - these are people who are basically following by the rules. They say that it's really an effort to send a message to low-income immigrants that they are not welcome. Here's Marielena Hincapie, who's executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

MARIELENA HINCAPIE: This is part and parcel of the larger strategy that this administration has, which is basically, let's make immigrants lives so horrific and impossible that they will either hide because of fear or that they will self-deport.

FESSLER: And Rachel, we're already seeing an impact. Even when rumors started that they were proposing this change, social service providers, health care providers, started to see immigrant families pulling out of some of these programs because they were worried about the impact on their status, even if it was for benefits for their American-born children. And that's...

MARTIN: So even if it wasn't necessarily a threat, as a result of this rule.

FESSLER: Right, there's a lot of confusion about what it means and just fear that - of how it's going to be implemented.

MARTIN: So what's now - I imagine there's going to be legal challenges?

FESSLER: Exactly, lots of litigation. The National Immigration Law Center announced within seconds of Cuccinelli's announcement yesterday that it planned to sue the administration to try and block the rule from going into effect October 15. They argue that this is racially motivated, that the administration's purpose is to try and discourage low-income people of color from entering the United States. Now, that's something of course the administration denies. They're also going to try to launch a big education campaign to try and clarify for immigrants exactly who will be affected and how.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Pam Fessler covering this story for us, the new rule from the Trump administration on immigration. Thanks, Pam.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.