Protecting immigrant families is a public health priority — read King County’s official comment letter

The chilling effects are already harming people in King County. A federal proposal to re-define who is eligible to immigrate to the United States is impacting health and nutrition for thousands of families.

In response, King County is filing comments with the federal government. The comment letter quoted below is signed by King County Executive Dow Constantine and members of the King County Council. It is addressed to Samantha Deshommes, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Patty Hayes, director of Public Health—Seattle & King County, has called the proposal inhumane and a threat to the overall health of King County.

Organizations ranging from Northwest Harvest to the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Public Health Association are opposing the proposed rule. Public comments may be submitted at this federal website or through our partners’ website through Dec. 10.

Dear Ms. Deshommes:

We are writing in response to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) proposed rule regarding “public charge,” published in the Federal Register on October 10, 2018.

As elected leaders of King County, we raise our voices in strong opposition to this rule. King County, including Seattle, is one of the largest regional governments in the United States, and the most populous county in Washington State with a metropolitan population of nearly 2.2 million people. Nearly half of our region’s population increase since 2010 has been from people not born in this country. Our new neighbors are fundamental to our economic, civic, and cultural health. The federal action proposed is a threat to the immediate and long-term public health and economic vitality of our region. We urge you to withdraw the proposed rule in its entirety.

The proposed rule is already having negative effects. In our Public Health clinics and other offices where we deliver services, clients have withdrawn from benefits for which they are eligible, out of fear that receipt will prevent them or their family members from attaining permanent status in the United States. We estimate that this chilling effect could have a huge and insidious impact by creating fear and anxiety for more than 220,000 people and leading some portion of these individuals to deny themselves basic needs such as food assistance, health care and housing.

The proposed rule will: increase sickness and poor nutrition; exacerbate homelessness; weaken our economy, and traumatize thousands of members of our community who work hard and play by the rules. The specific impacts in each of these areas are startling and saddening. We detail those impacts below.

This policy shift is not justified, and runs counter to our values in King County where we proudly uphold the American promise that we are a nation that welcomes those fleeing oppression, seeking opportunity, and yearning for freedom. We know from our own history that immigrants bring extraordinary skills and vigor to our region. They spark innovation, fuel our economy, and make our communities more dynamic, vibrant places to live.

We encourage advocates for public health principles and anyone concerned about the health and vibrancy of our community to read the full text of the letter.

(Originally published on 12/6/2018, updated 12/10/2018)

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I'm part of the communications team at Public Health - Seattle & King County and work closely with all of the programs in the Community Health Services Division.