Commentary, immigration, News, Trump Administration

After Trump administration rule change, immigration visa denials soar

New data released by the U.S. Department of State show a significant uptick in the number of visa denials on grounds of public charge compared to data from prior years.

These data, in addition to the public charge rule change proposed late last year, demonstrate the Trump administration’s commitment to restricting immigration, particularly for families accessing critical resources.

While the public charge rule has existed in some form for more than 100 years, its current definition took effect in 1999 and is based on the likelihood that someone will become a “public charge” by using certain public benefits for which they are eligible.

Experts agree that the departure from previous data on visa denials is likely due to a revision made in early 2018 to the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), which instructs U.S. consular officials on granting visas to immigrants and non-immigrants who are abroad and seeking to enter the U.S.

The new manual language imposes stricter rules about use of public benefits, income levels, and proof of financial support from family. This change came as part of a response to a 2017 White House Memorandum prompting increased vetting of visa applicants and others seeking entry into the United States.  While the FAM governs persons who are abroad and seeking to enter the U.S., the proposed public charge rule that is currently being reviewed at the federal level impacts those who are already inside the U.S. and are seeking to obtain a visa or green card.  The increase in denials based on public charge for visa applicants outside the U.S. could be a bellwether of what would happen if the proposed public charge regulation were to go into effect for applicants inside the U.S.

News about this dramatic increase in visa denials, along with confusion and fear about the current proposed rule,  could have a chilling effect on families accessing the programs they need to make ends meet.  It can also thwart our country’s vision of ensuring people in need can live in a country that respects and supports their well-being.

Suzy Khachaturyan is a Policy Analyst with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

News, Trump Administration

Tillis defies Trump on emergency declaration

Sen. Thom Tillis

WASHINGTON — Sen. Thom Tillis plans to vote against President Trump’s emergency border wall declaration.

The North Carolina Republican penned an op-ed in The Washington Post Monday laying out the reasons he plans to vote for a resolution that would terminate Trump’s declaration of a national emergency along the southern U.S. border.

“As a U.S. senator, I cannot justify providing the executive with more ways to bypass Congress,” Tillis wrote. “As a conservative, I cannot endorse a precedent that I know future left-wing presidents will exploit to advance radical policies that will erode economic and individual freedoms.”

He warned that Republicans should be wary of the precedent it would set by allowing a president to circumvent Congress’ power of the purse.

Conservatives, Tillis said, “should be thinking about whether they would accept the prospect of a President Bernie Sanders declaring a national emergency to implement parts of the radical Green New Deal; a President Elizabeth Warren declaring a national emergency to shut down banks and take over the nation’s financial institutions; or a President Cory Booker declaring a national emergency to restrict Second Amendment rights.”

Tillis’ declaration nudges the Senate closer to approving the resolution rebuffing Trump, which would need the support of at least four Republicans in the chamber. Several others, including Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have signaled they would oppose the president.

The op-ed comes as House Democratic leadership plans to vote Tuesday on a resolution that would end Trump’s emergency declaration.

Only one House Republican, Rep. Justin Amash from Michigan, signed on as an initial co-sponsor, but other Republicans may vote for the measure on the floor. But even if support is scant among House Republicans, the resolution is expected to easily pass the Democratic-controlled chamber.

It would then be sent to the GOP-led Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be required under the National Emergencies Act to hold a vote on the House resolution within 18 days of its passage.

Trump has said he’d veto the resolution if it makes it to his desk. Overriding that veto would require the votes of two-thirds of both chambers — a steep climb, particularly in the Senate.

Although his op-ed delivered a rebuke to Trump, Tillis attempted to soften the blow.

He led by praising the president: “President Trump has few bigger allies than me when it comes to supporting his vision of 21st-century border security … It is a vision that will take many years and tens of billions of dollars to fully realize, and the president can count on me to help.”

Tillis added, “[I]f I were the leader of the Constitution’s Article II branch, I would probably declare an emergency and use all the tools at my disposal as well.”

But despite Trump’s “legitimate grievances over congressional Democrats’ obstruction of border-security funding,” Tillis said, “his national emergency declaration on Feb. 15 was not the right answer.”

Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning, “I hope our great Republican Senators don’t get led down the path of weak and ineffective Border Security. Without strong Borders, we don’t have a Country — and the voters are on board with us. Be strong and smart, don’t fall into the Democrats “trap” of Open Borders and Crime!”

Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for The Newsroom network, of which NC Policy Watch is a member.

News, Trump Administration

SOTU: Trump’s uncompromising stances belie talk of unity

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — President Trump implored Congress Tuesday to move past political gridlock in favor of bipartisan cooperation before he dug in on the border security fight that threatens to shut down the government yet again.

“We can make our communities safer, our families stronger, our culture richer, our faith deeper, and our middle class bigger and more prosperous than ever before,” Trump said during his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

“But we must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution — and embrace the boundless potential of cooperation, compromise, and the common good.”

But while Trump opened his remarks to the now-divided Congress with a call for a new era of unity, he showed little willingness to compromise on some of his positions — including his stance on a border wall — that were central to fight that led to the last shutdown. Federal agencies could shutter yet again if lawmakers can’t reach a deal by their Feb. 15 deadline.

Democrats in North Carolina weren’t impressed by Trump’s speech. They accused the president of repeating rhetoric he’s used in the past and exacerbating the partisan divide that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history.

Congressman David Price

Congressman David Price, who was joined in Washington by a federal worker impacted by the recent government shutdown, dismissed the speech as featuring a “hollow pledge of unity.” In a statement, Price stated that “In tonight’s State of the Union address, the nation heard President Trump, once again, deliver a hollow pledge for unity while employing lies, fear, and division to manufacture a political crisis.  As we have repeatedly and unfortunately learned over the last two years, the President’s scripted remarks are often followed by unhinged twitter rants and a discriminatory agenda that undermines our collective values and further divides our nation.”

“While President Trump once again chose fear and division as his preferred path, House Democrats will continue to advance an agenda that moves our nation forward in a united way,” the statement concluded.

In Trump’s first address to Congress since Democrats clinched control of the House in the November elections, he called on lawmakers to choose “greatness” over “gridlock.” The speech, originally slated for late last month, was delayed as Trump sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) over the 35-day shutdown that ended in late January.

“Republicans and Democrats must join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis,” Trump said.“The Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our Government, protect our homeland, and secure our southern border.”

Pelosi slammed the speech as more of what the nation has come to expect from the President. In a statement, the Speaker said that “It will take days to fact-check all the misrepresentations that the President made tonight. Instead of fear-mongering and manufacturing a crisis at the border, President Trump should commit to signing the bipartisan conference committee’s bill to keep government open and provide strong, smart border security solutions.”

Despite congressional Democrats’ insistence that they won’t provide the $5 billion in funding for a wall along the southern U.S. border, Trump doesn’t appear to be budging. Read more

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration, South Carolina funding group that discriminates against Catholic, Jewish and LGBT families

Wow. Just wow. The reality of what “religious liberty” means in the eyes of the American Christian right continues to come into sharper focus. As the good people at People for the American Way report, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services has granted a waiver to the state of South Carolina so that it can dispense taxpayer dollars to a “child welfare agency” that refuses to place foster children in any homes that do not share the group’s Christian evangelical views. Peter Montgomery of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch has the details:

In a move that brought a startling clarity to the end game for “religious liberty” claims made by Religious Right political and legal groups, the Department of Health and Human Services last week granted a waiver from federal non-discrimination rules to South Carolina, allowing the state to continue funneling tax dollars to Miracle Hill, a child welfare agency that refuses to place foster children with Jewish or Catholic families—or anyone who doesn’t share Miracle Hill’s conservative evangelical religious doctrine. The waiver also applies to all other South Carolina faith-based foster care agencies.

“Under Miracle Hill’s policies, not only Jews are rejected” as potential mentors and foster parents, reported the Religion News Service. “Muslims, Hindus and atheists are also barred from fostering or mentoring children in the nonprofit’s programs; so too are Catholics.” Don’t even ask about same-sex couples, even if they’re Protestant. Miracle Hill has reportedly received millions of dollars from the state and federal governments….

In pushing for broad religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws, Religious Right groups have almost always made gay people and same-sex couples the bad guys—the ones religious social service agencies and business owners don’t want to be “forced” to serve. The idea that businesses could use the same principle to return to a time when it was legal to discriminate against, say, interfaith couples, is no longer theoretical.

Miracle Hill says it works with “Christian” families. But when it says “Christian,” it really means Protestants, and only those who meet the agency’s religious standards. No one else.

Allowing this kind of discrimination with tax dollars is a huge change. Federal civil rights rules have at times allowed religiously affiliated social service agencies to restrict staff hiring to people with similar religious beliefs. But that rule has never applied to the provision of services with taxpayer money. In other words, a church-affiliated charity that gets government funding to help feed or house poor people may be able to hire only Christian staff, but it couldn’t—at least up to now—feed only the right kind of Christian poor people.

Montgomery goes on to report that the authors of this policy are defending it, perversely, as somehow validating “religious freedom.” here’s the conclusion:

The Trump administration’s move makes both state and federal governments complicit in explicit discrimination against non-Christians and Christians who don’t meet conservative evangelicals’ approval. The Anti-Defamation League has rightly called it a “dangerous precedent.” That’s especially true in an era in which Christian nationalists and dominionists are committed to building more political power.

The Department of Health and Human Services was a top takeover target for Religious Right groups who helped put Trump in the White House. The new waiver is just the latest sign of the extraordinary and damaging influence on policy that Religious Right activists have in the Trump administration.

Click here to read the entire story.

Commentary, News, public health, Trump Administration

Trump administration moves to curb health and safety rules for workers

President Donald Trump (Credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

The Trump Administration launched its latest attack on working people yesterday, repealing a 2016 rule requiring large employers to electronically report injuries and illnesses to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

And this is just the latest assault. Previous efforts have included privatization of inspections in hog slaughtering plants, allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to operate patient lifting machines in nursing homes, limiting mine and oil rig inspections, and many others.

See the statement below from Deborah Berkowitz, program director for worker health and safety with the National Employment Law Project, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group that focuses on low-wage and unemployed workers:

“Today, despite the ongoing federal government shutdown, the Trump administration announced yet another rollback of workplace safety protections. The final rule, published today, allows dangerous employers to hide workplace injuries, seriously hindering the efforts of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—as well as the efforts of state agencies, the public health community, workers, and employers—to identify and prevent workplace injuries.

“The administration’s new rule repeals provisions of an existing rule adopted in 2016—the ‘Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses’ rule—which required large employers (those with 250 or more workers in an establishment) to electronically submit to OSHA important detailed information on injuries at their workplaces. The administration has arbitrarily reversed the conclusions of the 2016 final rule, which found enormous benefits to the rule—not just in targeting scarce agency enforcement resources, but in providing compliance assistance and overall injury prevention efforts.

“Without citing any supporting evidence or facts, the Trump administration has again sided with big corporate interests over working people. It ignores the abundance of evidence that workers and their representatives overwhelmingly supported the collection of this data. Once again, the Trump administration has ignored the voices of workers and their representatives, and listened exclusively to large corporations and their lobbyists who don’t want to report any of this information to the government and the public. It’s yet another shameful move by the Trump administration.”

Carol Brooke is a senior attorney for the N.C. Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights project.