Boston – A systematic federal effort to limit or revoke legal status for immigrants across a number of programs has had substantial impact on families, communities and the legal system in Massachusetts, according to a new report released today at the Boston Foundation. The report, The Growing Wave of Federal Immigration Restrictions: What's at Stake for Massachusetts?, was prepared by Boston Indicators, the research center of the Boston Foundation, in partnership with the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund, in recognition of the Fund’s second anniversary. Researchers tracked the implications of implemented and proposed changes to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the termination of Temporary Protected Status (TPS), the proposed redefinition of “public charge,” and changes to humanitarian protection programs for refugees and asylum seekers, for thousands of immigrants in Massachusetts.
“While much of the rhetoric from Washington has focused on the alleged dangers of illegal immigration, the impact of the Trump Administration’s actions on legal immigration programs has been widespread and far-reaching,” said Iris Gomez, Esq., Senior Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and co-editor of the report. “This report captures how policy changes and an atmosphere of intimidation have had very real consequences, effectively rolling up the welcome mat to immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.”
DACA and TPS restrictions taking a toll
The report begins with an exploration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status programs. An estimated 17,000 people in Massachusetts are eligible for DACA, but an estimated 11,000 of them have not been authorized for the program and are stymied by federal refusal to accept new DACA applications. Highly-publicized efforts to end the program entirely have also had an impact on DACA renewal applications, which dropped sharply in 2018.
For TPS, which is offered to immigrants from countries where natural catastrophes or civil unrest make returning home dangerous or impossible, the Trump Administration’s efforts to end TPS status for people from El Salvador, Haiti and other countries has put an estimated 12,000 TPS recipients in Massachusetts into limbo, pending court challenges. Nearly 11,000 of TPS recipients in the state are from Haiti and El Salvador.
Refugee and asylum programs
While the rising number of families seeking asylum in recent months has been well-publicized, despite Trump Administration efforts to curtail or end asylum programs, federal efforts to curtail refugee programs have successfully reduced the number of admitted refugees entering the United States to the lowest level in at least four decades. In 2017, President Trump cut the annual cap on refugee admissions to 50,000, before reducing it to 45,000 in 2018. Other actions, such as the suspension of the refugee program for 90 days in 2017, and greater scrutiny of refugees and family members have resulted in even lower numbers for actual authorized admissions – just 22,491 refugees entered the U.S. in 2018, a 90% decline since 1980. Of those, just 240 refugees were admitted to Massachusetts in FY2019.
The “public charge”
The Trump administration has also sought to discourage lawful immigration by changing the standard for judging the likelihood they would become a “public charge,” someone primarily dependent on government assistance for income support.
Under new guidance released in 2018, the Trump Administration seeks to change the rules determining whether someone can be considered a “public charge” to include anyone who receives federal health care, housing and nutrition assistance. The Administration is also seeking to reduce the consideration of whether family members would provide support in determining public charge status. The researchers note that under the current wording, as many as one-third of current U.S. citizens would be considered a ‘public charge.’
The rule changes are under review – if accepted, it is estimated the new rules would push over 500,000 people in the state to consider dropping critical benefits for themselves or family members to protect their immigration status or opportunity.
Local action areas
The report concludes with a series of local actions that could be taken to support those under increased pressure from these federal changes, among them investments in legal supports for immigrants, who are six times as likely to win their deportation cases when represented by an attorney.
The state could also ease the financial burdens on undocumented students by following 20 other states who allow some or all undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Massachusetts colleges, by opening up the availability of MassHealth to all children regardless of immigration status, and creating easier paths to obtaining local IDs and drivers licenses, among other options.