Portland’s City Council unanimously passed a resolution Monday opposing a Trump administration proposal that could make immigrants ineligible to become citizens if they accept public assistance, such as food stamps, health care or housing assistance.

City Councilor Pious Ali, who immigrated from Ghana and became a U.S. citizen about 10 years ago, said the resolution passed Monday “will register the Portland City Council’s strongest opposition because it will affect a lot of people who live in our community.”

“This will register the Portland City Council’s strongest opposition because it will affect a lot of people who live in our community,” said City Councilor Pious Ali, an immigrant from the West African nation of Ghana who became a citizen about a decade ago.

It wasn’t clear Monday how many residents of Portland or Maine would be affected by the administration’s proposed rule change, but the council’s resolution says it could affect over 500,000 people nationwide. Immigrants who are here legally and hope to attain citizenship are legally entitled to the aid, but the proposed change builds on Trump administration efforts to restrict access to newcomers who are self-sufficient.

Currently, federal officials decide whether to admit immigrants into the U.S. in part by determining whether that individual or family is likely to rely on the government for its livelihood, or become a so-called public charge. That determination is currently made based on whether they are likely to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Social Security income or long-term government-funded institutional care, according to the resolutions.

The proposed rule change, however, would expand the criteria to also include noncitizens pursuing a path to U.S. citizenship who enroll in Medicaid, accept food stamps or rely on public housing assistance. Such a move would make it easier for federal officials to deny temporary visas, green cards and ultimately permanent legal residency or citizenship.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has said the administration’s changes are intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and “protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

Portland councilors said the proposal will harm communities by discouraging people from seeking the help they need.

“This proposed rule change would adversely impact the health of communities by discouraging immigrants who are legally eligible for health care, nutrition and housing programs to apply for them, in fear of being denied admission, having their visas canceled, and other consequences adverse to resettlement,” the resolution states.

The rule change would give preference to admission applications from individuals or families who are earning at least 250 percent of the federal poverty level, while adversely affecting immigrants with earnings below the poverty line, the council’s resolution states.

“The City Council believes that all of our residents and their families have the right to thrive, including our immigrant neighbors,” the resolution states.

The resolution will be sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is accepting public comments on the proposed rule change through Dec. 10.

The resolution is the most recent example of Portland’s support for noncitizens.

Maine’s largest city helped lead the charge in 2015 to make noncitizens who are lawfully present or who have filed an application to receive asylum eligible for the state’s General Assistance program, which provides emergency vouchers for food, housing and other necessities. And city officials say noncitizens make up about 85 percent of the people currently staying at the city’s Family Shelter.

The city also established the Portland Community Support Fund, which provides assistance to noncitizens who are ineligible for the state program. The existence of that fund recently forced the city to give up a $68,000 federal policing grant after new language in the grant applications said communities are not eligible if they provide support or encouragement to noncitizens.

The city has also established the Office of Economic Opportunity to better integrate immigrants and people of color into the Greater Portland community and economy. Portland Adult Education also has a New Mainers Resource Center, which offers classes, skilled professional programs, and employment and case management services, among other things. And over the coming year, the council is expected to take up a proposal to allow noncitizens to vote in some local, municipal elections. The idea was proposed last year, but delayed because of concerns raised by immigrant advocates.

Before adopting the resolution Monday, three councilors who won re-election in November – Nicholas Mavodones, Belinda Ray and Spencer Thibodeau – were sworn in for new three-year terms. This will be the eighth term for Mavodones, who holds an at-large seat, while Ray and Thibodeau are now into their second terms representing District 1 and 2, respectively.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: randybillings

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