Tag Archives: Federal

Congressman Ro Khanna’s South Bay Town Hall on 2021 Priorities

We currently live in a complex and uncertain world. In addition to this, content can now be created by anyone, anywhere, and published on multiple platforms – it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. However, the proper functioning of democracy and governance relies on citizens being aware of their representatives and issues that they support. Direct and transparent dialogue between the constituents and their representatives ensures the minimization of misinformation. 

It was great to see that Congressman Ro. Khanna (Congressional District 17) and Senator Dave Cortese (Senate District 15) recently hosted a town hall for the constituents of the Bay Area on April 8th, 2021. This was an opportunity for people to engage with their elected representatives and understand their focus on various critical topics like overcoming COVID-19, housing/homelessness, climate change, and more. 

Congressman Khanna mentioned that under the new administration, the federal government has allocated close to 2 billion dollars for infrastructure and development for the area which should help drive positive change within the region. This would help combat homelessness and make affordable housing more accessible. In the last few years, federal cuts in funding to redevelopment agencies had hurt the state’s ability to focus on development projects for the community.

The Bay Area tends to be one of the most diverse and tolerant areas in the US but despite that, it has been contaminated by the recent incidents of hate crimes against Asians. One such assault happened in March when an Asian woman was dragged by the hair and tossed around for over a minute by an assailant who kept cursing her for being Asian. What has been even more troubling is the targeting of the elderly Asian population. 

Both Senator Dave Cortese and Congressman Ro. Khanna expressed deep regret and disappointment at the recent escalation of hate incidents and crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities. They urged citizens to speak up when they see these incidents happening and also for citizens to be aware of the history of Asian immigrants in the USA. Some of this history is not taught in schools. 

On the topic of COVID vaccines, Senator Cortese mentioned that the state was currently receiving 1.8 Million vaccine doses per week and that was going to increase to 2.5 million doses per week and then to 3 million doses per week by the end of the month. This increase could help achieve herd immunity sooner if people choose to get vaccinated as they become eligible for vaccines. The senator also shared how he has pushed for recalculation of equity formula for vaccine allotment for Santa Clara county. You can read more on this topic here

It is critical that we keep ourselves well informed about the vaccine and encourage our communities to get vaccinated as the vaccines become available. The recent focus of public health messaging has clearly helped with awareness but we all have to play our part in debunking myths and concerns within the South Asian community to play our part.  

Curious for more information on issues backed by the Senator and Congressman? 

Recently Congressman Khanna was appointed chair of the Subcommittee on Environment. You can read more about the issues that Congressman Khanna is supporting here.

To read more about Senator Cortese’s work you can visit his website.


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.


 

New White House Could Remove Public Charge Rule

The incoming Biden-Harris administration has an opportunity to immediately revoke implementation of the public charge rule, easing anxiety for millions of immigrants who have denied themselves federal benefits over the past three years for fear of losing their ability to upgrade their immigration status.

“Public charge will be a front-burner issue for the new administration because it is so entwined with our current public health crisis and connected to the pandemic,” said Daniel Sharp, chief of the Office of Immigrant Affairs in Los Angeles County’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. “We do expect the new administration to prioritize the issue,” he said in an interview with EMS, noting that President-elect Joe Biden had committed to ending the rule while campaigning for office.

If Democrats take back the Senate with the Jan. 5 Georgia run-off election, the incoming Congress has an opportunity to permanently remove public charge from the immigration code, said Sharp. He noted that if it is not permanently removed, a future administration could once again implement the rule, which has had an enormously chilling impact on immigrants even before it was formally rolled out by the outgoing Trump administration.

“It is going to take a multi-year effort to undo the harm that this rule change has set in,” he said.

The public charge rule, which was introduced with the Immigration Act of 1882, is a means test used to determine ineligibility for immigration or residency status. The seldom-used rule can be used by consulates abroad to determine whether an applicant could ever become completely dependent on public benefits; and by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to deny a green card to those unable to essentially pass a wealth test. Factors such as age, the ability to speak English, and future earning capabilities are used as determinants of whether or not to grant a visa or green card.

USCIS can deny a green card to immigrants who have ever used Supplemental Security Income; Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; general assistance cash benefits (welfare); Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly called food stamps); Section 8 Housing or Rental Assistance; or federally funded Medicaid.

Public charge is not invoked during the naturalization process.

Critics of the rule have called it a “cruel wealth test,” used to keep poor immigrants out of the U.S. In the early 1900s, the rule was frequently invoked to bar immigrants from the developing world for permanent residency in the U.S. In more recent years, the rule has been less frequently invoked: prior to 2019, less than one percent of all immigration cases were denied based on the public charge rule.

Currently, more than 10.3 million immigrants use some form of federal benefits.

Manjusha Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, noted that when President Donald Trump hinted in 2017 that he was going to implement the little-used rule, “the news spread like wildfire in the immigrant community.”

Even before the rule was finalized in August 2019, immigrants began denying themselves federal benefits, including school lunch programs, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which are not considered in public charge determinations; immigrants nonetheless dis-enrolled their children from the benefits, fearing possible impact to their immigration status.

Kulkarni referred to data from Health Affairs which reported that 260,000 immigrant children had been dis-enrolled by their families from receiving Medicaid since 2018 and 70,000 children were no longer enrolled in SNAP.

A paper published by the Journal of Pediatrics in December noted the severe impact of the public charge rule on children. “By tying the use of vital public health programs to immigration and residency status, the Administration is forcing a choice between seeking critical services or securing status in the United Status,” said the authors of the study: Nina Patel, Swapna Reddy, and Natalia Wilson of Arizona State University. They described the rule as impacting the most vulnerable children in the nation.

“Current anti-immigrant sentiment, rhetoric, and policy changes, such as the public charge rule, have resulted in a culture of fear, misinformation, distrust, and isolation, all of which have health implications,” noted Patel, Reddy, and Wilson.

Despite the current uncertain future of the rule, Kulkarni encouraged immigrants to avail of federal benefits, especially during the pandemic. “It is so important for all of us to stay as safe and as healthy as possible at this time, when we are living under the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime.”

“People should not go without meals, COVID-testing and care, and housing benefits,” she said, noting that the Biden Administration is likely to take a “180-degree turn” to remove the rule.

Sharp noted that immigrants in California also began dis-enrolling from Medical, a state-funded program, for fear of losing their immigration status. “People were confused,” he said, adding also that students dropped their applications for federal scholarship programs, which are not considered in public charge determinations. Benefits were also dropped by U.S. citizen children living in mixed-status families with undocumented parents or siblings.

At the start of the pandemic, Sharp’s office began receiving a record number of calls from immigrants who were concerned about accessing benefits. “The people most impacted by the pandemic were not applying for public benefits,” he said.

Sharp characterized it as a “double whammy.” Undocumented people, despite being gainfully employed with deductions taken out of their paychecks, did not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, and they were not accessing benefits for which they were qualified to receive, he said.

The public charge rule is written so as not to be invoked during a national crisis, but immigrants have little understanding about the nuances of the rule, said Sharp. National election results, which brought Biden to office, held out a glimmer of hope for immigrants “that better times are ahead in the near future,” he said, but added: “We have been down this road before. There have been so many moments of on again, off again in this tennis match of implementation.”

After the final rule was rolled out in August 2019, it was immediately blocked by several lower courts.

On Jan. 27, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the administration’s Public Charge: New Ethical Considerations for Adjustment Cases and allowed public charge to be implemented nationwide beginning Feb. 24, just as the COVID pandemic began to take force in the U.S.

On Nov. 2, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked public charge in the Cook County v. Wolf case. Amy Coney Barrett, now a Supreme Court Justice, wrote the dissenting opinion, siding with the Trump Administration’s theory that immigrants must be able to prove self-sufficiency. That case will now be heard by a full panel in the 7th Circuit. Meanwhile, immigrants in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin must continue to file the I-944 form, a declaration of self-sufficiency, with their adjustment of status applications.

On Dec. 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in the City and County of San Francisco v. USCIS case, blocked the rule from being implemented in 15 states, including California.

Kulkarni said it is highly unlikely that the incoming administration will appeal the Ninth Circuit ruling. Consulates abroad have been blocked from implementing the public charge rule since July.


SUNITA SOHRABJI is the EMS Contributing Editor.

The original article can be found here.

US and India Benefit From the Same Democratic Process

Although many feel the democratic urgency of voting this election cycle in the US, it is not uncommon to hear, “My vote won’t count anyway.”

Associate Professor of Political Science at SFSU and Researcher, Jason McDaniel addresses the importance of local elections as a “foundation for democracy” and a “pathway to racial-ethnic equity.” Whether it be, city, county, or state jurisdiction, local law supersedes federal law and can more accurately represent the sentiment of its community. 

However, at the local elections in Berkeley, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Leandro, your vote actually has more bang for its buck. 

Why? Because of their implementation of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV).

Entrenched in the SF Voting Data, McDaniel cautions that RCV can be a contributor to the confounding nature of ballot response but its results are that of a lower democratic deficit. He finds that complexities within the SF local election and lack of information lowers voter turnout for communities of color.

The US follows the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system, in which you vote for one candidate and the candidate who receives the most votes wins the election. At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 6th, McDaniel reviewed Rank Choice Voting, also known as Instant Runoff Voting. 

When RCV is used, candidates are ranked from 1-10 (depending on the number of candidates). If a candidate immediately has an outright majority (50 percent plus one), then that candidate is declared the winner of the election. However, if none of the candidates have an outright majority, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed based on their voters’ second choice rankings. The process continues until one candidate’s adjusted vote number hits an outright majority.

Dr. Jason McDaniel’s example of RCV from the Mayoral Election in SF (red indicates eliminated candidate)

Ranking candidates requires more knowledge of all platforms and of RCV. McDaniels comments, “Reformers who want to change democracy often overestimate what voters care about…The vast majority of voters don’t have strong preferences for more than one or two candidates.” The idea of voters having multiple informed preferences in nonpartisan, local elections is quite novel, unheard of, and is likely a barrier to participation. Research shows that it is possible to recover the loss of voter participation.

Benefits can outweigh the implications of using RCV in a few ways:

  1. This particular method of voting can mitigate “spoiler” candidates, where a candidate that may be a third choice wins an election to a split vote.
  2. The candidate that wins better represents the majority.   
  3. Voters can cast “sincere” votes, unbridled by the burden of a “wasted vote”. Independent third-party candidates can be represented by a genuine vote, but if they are dropped during the process of RCV, then another candidate with a similar platform can receive that vote.
  4. It can reduce negative campaigning because it may lie in the interest of multiple parties with resembling platforms to advocate for one another.
  5. It can reduce polarization by rewarding moderate candidates. There is no research to support this yet.

Why stop at local elections?

India, which generally employs FPTP voting, explored a version of Rank Choice Voting in electing their 14th and current President, Ram Nath Kovind. President Kovind is only the second Dalit president elected in Indian history. RCV secured a notable win for someone like Kovind, who overcame countless adversity in his path to a presidential win, while accounting for the public vote in a substantial way. After his win, Kovind addressed the Indian populace, “My win should prove that even honest people can get ahead in life.”

An ongoing dialogue around voting processes can be beneficial for our communities and for reform. If not to change the process, then to better educate everyone around us. 

Anni Chung, SF resident and CEO of Self Help for the Elderly, “Rank Choice Voting has always been a mystery to me, even now, after all these years.” 

Voting can only be effective if understood. Keep the conversation going and go out and vote this November 3rd!


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Proposed Public Charge Rule Change, Tied Up in Court, Has Huge Chilling Effect on Immigrants

Federal courts have temporarily blocked the public charge rule change from going into effect, but its chilling effects continue to reverberate. The number of immigrants who, fearing the consequences of the rule change, have taken or plan to take steps to drop out of public services for which they are eligible far exceeds the actual number who would be at risk if the rule ever goes into effect, research data show.

A May study by the Urban Institute found of adults in immigrant families almost 14%  reported that they or another adult family member had dropped benefits or skipped applying for them,  even on behalf of a child, rather than take on the perceived risk of exposure to new rules. Among low-income families, that number rose to more than 20%, the study found. Programs they shied away from include: SNAP (food stamps) CHIP (children’s health insurance), and Section 8 and other types of housing assistance.

Nationwide, the families of 22.7 million people’s families include immigrants who could potentially fall victim to the chilling effect created by fear of public charge rules changes.

The proposed rule change was due to take effect Oct. 15 this year until four different federal courts all ruled to block it and issued injunctions against implementing it.

But long before, as word of the proposed rule change began leaking out ahead of its October 2018 announcement, millions of people feared being caught in its clutches and avoided using government programs intended to help them and their families lead healthier, more successful lives.

Nationwide, said Randy Capps of the Migration Policy Institute, “So few noncitizens are eligible for the safety net programs covered by the rule that those who would be affected is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands,” not millions, as cited incorrectly by both officials and the news media. 

A Michigan government study found that “of 86,298 noncitizen legal immigrants receiving public assistance from the state health department, only 611 may find a tougher path to legal permanent residency if they continue receiving public benefits.” That’s less than 1%.

For those already in the United States, the category of people who most need to be cautious about public charge rules aren’t those receiving benefits, but those who plan to travel beyond U.S. borders.

“If I had one message for every immigrant in America I would say, ‘Look, if you’re a green card holder, don’t leave for more than 180 days,’” said former Obama administration official Doug Rand, a co-founder of Boundless.com. 

The public charge rules, even if toughened as proposed, simply don’t apply to many people already in the country. Not to asylum seekers or refugees, citizens or those applying for citizenship, nor DACA, or those with green cards. Use of benefits by family members and past use of benefits also is irrelevant, even under the proposed tougher rules.

“The list of programs now considered in the public charge test is more limited than it seems at first blush,” Sara Feldman of the National Immigration Law Center said. “The impact will mostly be restricted to use of food stamps, housing subsidies and cash assistance. While Medicaid is included, there are so many exceptions in the rule that few people enrolled in the program would be impacted.”

“And use of public benefits is only one factor considered when determining who gets a green card,” Feldman added. “Immigration officials also take income, health condition, English proficiency, and other factors into account.”

The people who have most fallen victim to public charge rules are those applying to come to the United States. Since 2016, the State Department has cited public charge issues more aggressively. Visa denials on public charge grounds jumped from 1,000 in 2016 to 12,000 in 2018 at U.S. consulates around the world.

But half of those denials already have been overturned, and more may be overturned as the time-consuming appeal process continues, the Migration Policy Institute’s Jeanne Batalova pointed out at a telebriefing co-sponsored by Ethnic Media Services, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the National Immigration Law Center.

“The brutal irony is that people are still disenrolling from public benefits when they don’t have to,” Rand said.

Mark Greenberg, senior fellow at the Migration Policy institute, told Ethnic Media Services in a phone interview after the telebriefing that “It’s very unclear what problem the administration thought it was going to solve, because Congress had already agreed 20 years ago to public charge-based restrictions,”  

 “The number of people who would be denied adjustment of status based on benefit use would be low because they aren’t eligible (for those benefits),” he said, far fewer than the number feeling the effect of the proposed rule change while it wends its way through the courts.