Montgomery County leaders are strongly pushing back on new federal limits that could keep some legal immigrants from entering the United States.
The County Council and County Executive Marc Elrich joined on Tuesday to denounce a U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirms the Trump administration’s new approach to admitting immigrants to the country.
County leaders say new immigrants could be greatly harmed by changes to the “public charge” regulations. “Public charge” refers to the likelihood that someone seeking a visa or legal permanent resident status will have to rely on public assistance.
The concept has long been a part of immigration law, but the Trump administration has expanded what can be considered for “public charge” determinations, adding non-emergency Medicaid, housing programs and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Jan. 27 to uphold the administration’s changes. The regulation can use factors such as age, health, income, education and skills to determine whether someone is likely to be a public charge and restrict their ability to enter the country.
The final version of the regulations was issued in August and was scheduled to go into effect in October, but was held up by the legal challenge, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Supreme Court’s ruling allows the final version of the regulation to take effect on Feb. 24, except in Illinois, where it is still being considered in a federal court.
Montgomery County’s vehement opposition to the regulation is expressed in a resolution sponsored by Council Members Gabe Albornoz and Nancy Navarro and supported by the rest of the council.
The resolution, introduced Tuesday, says the Supreme Court’s ruling, allowing the regulation to go into effect, “will create major barriers for low- and moderate-income immigrants seeking to enter or remain legally in the United States.”
The resolution says the factors include whether the immigrant is earning less than 125% of the federal poverty level, age, health conditions, English proficiency and prior receipt of certain benefits.
Under the resolution, the County Council calls for Congress to “promptly adopt comprehensive immigration reform that will protect immigrants and their families and oppose any federal regulatory change that would negatively affect them.”
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Albornoz referred to the change in the “public charge” regulation a “further assault on immigrants in our country.”
“This administration has taken nefarious and immoral steps, in my opinion, in directly attacking immigration both now legal and illegal immigration,” he said.
In a separate press conference on the resolution, council members and Elrich spoke passionately about the major role immigrants play in the social fabric and the economy in Montgomery County, Maryland and the U.S. They said overly restrictive laws and regulations make immigrants scared to access public health benefits to which they are entitled.
Council members shared emotional stories of the immigration paths within their own families.
At one point, Albornoz, whose parents immigrated from Chile and Ecuador, struggled to keep his composure.
“We are here on behalf of so many families,” Albornoz said, pausing several seconds to collect himself, his voice wavering, “that are under attack.”
“We in Montgomery County are saying we are never going to give up,” added Navarro, who was born in Venezuela.
Council President Sidney Katz, whose grandparents were from Lithuania, and Council Member Will Jawando, whose father escaped war-torn Nigeria, also chimed in.
Elrich said the Trump administration’s attempts to “dehumanize people” is “beyond the pale.”
A U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services press release about the new “public charge” regulation moving ahead after the court decision quotes Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of the deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security.
“Self-sufficiency is a core American value and has been part of immigration law for centuries,” Cuccinelli said in the press release. “President Trump has called for long-standing immigration law to be enforced, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is delivering on this promise to the American people. By requiring those seeking to come or stay in the United States to rely on their own resources, families and communities, we will encourage self-sufficiency, promote immigrant success and protect American taxpayers.”