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New rules to deny green cards to many legal immigrants

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Monday it is moving forward with one of its most aggressive steps yet to restrict legal immigration: Denying green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. — a “public charge,” in government speak —but the new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.

It’s part of a dramatic overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that the administration has been working to put in place, despite legal pushback. While most attention has focused on President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, including recent raids in Mississippi and the continued separation of migrant parents from their children, the new rules target people who entered the United States legally and are seeking permanent status.

Trump is trying to move the U.S. toward a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families.

Under the new rules, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh whether applicants have received public assistance along with other factors such as education, income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don’t apply to U.S. citizens, though immigrants related to the citizens may be subject to them.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the rule change will ensure those who come to the country don’t become a burden, though they pay taxes.

“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

Migrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for such benefits because of their immigration status.

Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the changes, warning the rules would scare immigrants away from asking for needed help. And they voiced concern the rules give officials too much authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance in the future.

The Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said it would file a lawsuit, calling the new rules an attempt to redefine the legal immigration system “in order to disenfranchise communities of color and favor the wealthy.”

And David Skorton, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, said, “The consequences of this action will be to potentially exacerbate illnesses and increase the costs of care when their condition becomes too severe to ignore.

“This change will worsen existing health inequities and disparities, cause further harm to many underserved and vulnerable populations and increase costs to the health care system overall, which will affect all patients,” he said in a statement.

Cuccinelli defended the move, insisting the administration was not rejecting long-held American values.

Pressed on the Emma Lazarus poem emblazoned below the Statue of Liberty that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” he told reporters at the White House: “I’m certainly not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty.”

A new Pew Research Center survey released Monday found the American public is broadly critical of the administration’s handling of the wave of migrants at the southern border, with nearly two-thirds of Americans — 65% — saying the federal government is doing a very bad or somewhat bad job. The survey found broad support for developing a pathway to legal status for immigrants living in the country illegally.

On average, 544,000 people apply for green cards every year, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to the new review, according to the government.

Guidelines in use since 1999 refer to a “public charge” as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support.

Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone uses two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Following publication of the proposed rules last fall, the Homeland Security Department received 266,000 public comments, more than triple the average number. It made a series of amendments to the final rules as a result.

For example, women who are pregnant and on Medicaid or who need public assistance will not be subject to the new rules during pregnancy or for 60 days after giving birth. The Medicare Part D low-income subsidy also won’t be considered a public benefit. And benefits received by children until the age of 21 won’t be considered. Nor will emergency medical assistance, school lunch programs, foster care or adoption, student loans and mortgages, food pantries, homeless shelters or disaster relief.

Active U.S. military members are also exempt, as are refugees and asylum seekers. And the rules will not be applied retroactively, officials said.

Green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. If immigrants have private health insurance, that will weigh heavily in their favor.

According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, low-income immigrants who are not citizens use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.

Noncitizen immigrants represent 6.5% of those participating in Medicaid and 8.8% of those receiving food assistance.

The new public assistance threshold, taken together with higher requirements for education, work skills and health, will make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards, advocates say.

“Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children and parents,” said Ur Jaddou, a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel who is now director of DHS Watch, run by an immigrant advocacy group.

“These are not just small changes. They are big changes with enormous consequences for U.S. citizens.”

It's hot: Tulsa hits 99 degrees, with 116-degree heat index

Monday marked the third day in a row Tulsa and much of eastern Oklahoma was under an excessive heat warning by the National Weather Service. Officially at the airport, Tulsa’s high temperature was 99 degrees with a max heat index of 116 degrees. A cool front moving through the area Tuesday was expected to bring some relief, with highs in the upper 80s and low 90s the rest of the week, forecasters said.

Summit focuses on new teacher 'pipeline' to help address statewide shortage

Leaders of teacher education across the state came together Monday for a summit in Tulsa on long-term solutions to Oklahoma’s teacher shortage.

The Oklahoma Teacher Pipeline Summit was meant to serve as a precursor to an interim study on possible policy solutions in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in late September.

“It’s inequitable that not every kid has the same access to the same quality of teaching. That’s why we’re here today,” said one of the hosts, Elizabeth Smith, assistant professor and chairwoman of the Department of Education at the University of Tulsa.

As Oklahoma plunged into a statewide teacher shortage almost six years ago, school districts became increasingly reliant on new hires who have not yet completed the state’s requirements for either traditional or alternative teacher certification.

Applications for emergency certifications for such individuals used to be a rarity, with just 32 emergency teaching certificates approved by the Oklahoma State Board of Education in a single year in 2011-12.

By comparison, Oklahoma public schools hired 3,038 nonaccredited teachers to work in classrooms in 2018-19, representing a 54% increase over the previous school year’s 1,975.

Smith said the use of the term “certification” tied to this growing trend is misleading parents about the lack of qualifications of the majority of these new emergency hires.

“We need to help the public be aware of the vast differences between standard and alternative certification and emergency certification,” said Smith. “It means they have a bachelor’s degree.”

Robin Fuxa, director of professional education at Oklahoma State University, noted that there have been high turnover rates among new teachers hired with emergency certification. And she said there are heavy concentrations of those individuals working in “high-needs” schools in the state’s two urban centers, with the highest percentages of students of color, English learners and children in poverty.

Because so many of these underqualifed teachers are working in neighborhoods with a “history of systematically denying (children) a quality education,” the practice “feeds the myth of the culture of poverty,” Fuxa said.

“Those who want to privatize can say ‘public schools are failing.’ We have to fund our schools equitably, working to offset our long history of inequity,” said Fuxa.

Possible policy initiatives discussed included:

• State-funded loan forgiveness or scholarships for university-prepared teachers who commit to employment in an Oklahoma public school.

• The allocation of an estimated $600,000 annually to cover the cost of certification exams for university-prepared teachers.

• Signing bonuses for university-prepared teachers who commit to working at least three years in public schools.

• State-funded paid student teacher internships.

Other representatives from the Oklahoma Association for Colleges of Teacher Education, or OACTE, shared their unique initiatives to try to better recruit and retain future teachers.

For example, TU is creating a minor in STEM education, which stands for science, technology, engineering and math, so future educators can gain greater knowledge in the subjects and training in how to integrate STEM into their lessons. And Mid-America Christian University is launching a master’s degree program in curriculum and instruction.

Vanessa Anton, dean of the College of Education at Northeastern State University and president of OACTE, said NSU has been trying to be responsive to schools’ current needs.

Examples there include curriculum changes to include courses in childhood trauma, dyslexia and new classroom management strategies, as well as finding new ways to accelerate advanced degree programs and creating specialized teacher internships for urban and rural settings.

“We do not have to do it the way we’ve always done it,” Anton said. “We have to get out of that box in our head.”

Deputy State Superintendent Robyn Miller said she thinks one area of need that policy makers might focus on is “new teacher induction,” or the extra supports and mentoring teachers need to be successful and to remain in the profession after their first one to three years in the classroom.

She also called for better communication about exactly what Oklahoma schools need from the state’s teacher preparation programs.

“Districts and ‘providers’ (of new teachers) need to get together more to communicate their needs,” said Miller. “That’s not something we’ve been very good at. It’s supply and demand.”

Lawmakers present included the two requesters of the interim study on the teacher pipeline, state Reps. Melissa Provenzano and John Waldron, both D-Tulsa, as well as Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater.

FOP says it still opposes mayor's plan for police oversight

The union representing Tulsa police officers remains opposed to Mayor G.T. Bynum’s police oversight proposal, a top official with the organization said last week.

“We’re still not in favor of it, is the way that it currently stands, because of what it has become in other cities,” said Jared Lindsey, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 board of directors. “And we don’t see anything in the current ordinance that prevents these issues from arising here.”

The City Council is expected to vote later this month on the mayor’s plan to create an Office of the Independent Monitor. The office would be charged with following up on complaints about police and reviewing police Internal Affairs investigations of use-of-force incidents; reviewing best practices for police and making policy recommendations; and conducting community outreach.

Lindsey said union members are not opposed to oversight but think the program Bynum is proposing could have unintended consequences. The proposal draws from, but is not identical to, the Office of the Independent Monitor in Denver.

“It took us all of a couple of hours to call down there and find out from the people who actually work there and do the job that this started out with the best of intentions but then over time it became a political tool of those that sit in the office of a strong mayoral form of government, and this would allow that, as well,” Lindsey said.

Bynum said Lindsey’s concern would not apply to the person overseeing Tulsa’s OIM program because that person would be a civil service employee.

“As the draft ordinance makes clear, the independent monitor in Tulsa would be a civil service employee — just like the chief of police,” Bynum said. “Our civil service system in Tulsa is designed to protect employees from issues of political patronage.”

Lindsey is also concerned that the mayor’s proposal has the potential to put Internal Affairs in the middle of political fights.

“We want somebody that we have no control over and that the mayor and the City Council — nobody has got sway over,” he said.

The mayor’s proposed ordinance creating the OIM gives the office the option of contracting with a third party, such the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, to do the work.

Bynum said he agrees that the OSBI would do a good job with Internal Affairs reviews but that he thinks having city employees doing the work would create less opportunity for conflicts.

“This isn’t a case of having a good option and a bad option,” the mayor said. “It is a case of having a good option and a better option.”

The OIM, or an entity contracted by OIM, would have 10 days to complete its review of a use-of-force investigation. The review would be limited to whether the investigation was done thoroughly and properly. The OIM would have no authority to recommend or impose discipline on officers.

Lindsey noted that the FOP is not the only organization that has advocated for the OSBI’s involvement.

“We are not against oversight. In fact, we welcome it,” Lindsey said. “But we still support and welcome the oversight that was requested by Councilor (Vanessa) Hall-Harper and 50 other north Tulsa leaders, including the (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund), which is contracting with the state agency to do that oversight, instead of adding the bureaucracy of city government and the cost.”

Hall-Harper and a group of Tulsans sent a letter to Bynum and the City Council last year after the release of the Equality Indicators report. The letter demanded reforms to police practices, including using an independent agency such as the OSBI to review in-custody deaths and police use-of-force incidents resulting in death or injury.

“They wanted it till we wanted it,” Lindsey said. “Now that we want it, they don’t want it.”

Effort underway to repeal 'constitutional carry' gun law taking effect Nov. 1 in Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma City lawmaker on Monday announced an effort to nullify a law passed last session that allows people to carry guns without training or a permit.

But a backer of the gun law said it’s doubtful that the effort will be successful, calling it a “political stunt.”

Last session, lawmakers passed House Bill 2597, which is called “constitutional carry” or “permitless carry.”

It was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt, and it takes effect Nov. 1.

Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, is among three proponents of a referendum petition to nullify the law.

He is working with Moms Demand Action, a nationwide group that calls itself a grassroots organization seeking to reduce gun violence.

“It is my sincerest belief that there are citizens among us who should not openly carry guns, especially without a permit or training,” Lowe said.

Oklahoma already allows open carry with a permit.

“This petition does not take away guns,” Lowe said. “This petition does not make tougher and more restrictive laws. This petition does exactly what it should and forces the Legislature to rethink our decision to rush a bill to the governor’s desk to fulfill a campaign promise.”

Lowe said the issue isn’t about politics but is about giving the people a chance to speak their mind.

Brian T. Jones, representing proponents of the referendum, said voters would be asked whether to approve or reject HB 2597.

The referendum faces an uphill battle based on regulations governing the process of even getting to the signature-gathering process.

Backers of a referendum have 90 days from the end of the legislative session in which the measure was enacted (May 31) to obtain a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, so supporters would have only until 5 p.m. Aug. 29 to submit 59,320 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office after the petition was approved for circulation — a process that itself could take weeks.

Don Spencer is president of the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, also called OK2A. He said he wrote House Bill 2597 and that he doesn’t think supporters can gather the required number of signatures.

“It is a political stunt,” Spencer said. “I will tell you this, too. We appreciate Rep. Lowe for introducing this. It is one of the greatest generators for OK2A memberships that can take place.”

House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, who was the House author of House Bill 2597, said, “I think the chances of it getting on the ballot are zero percent.”

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