SOUTH PORTLAND — Over 50,000 foreign-born people call Maine home. Many arrive having fled their homelands, leaving families, friends, jobs and professions to escape the ravages of war, persecution and the threat of enduring poverty.

But because of the Trump administration’s proposed public charge rule, calling Maine home is now in jeopardy for those not yet citizens.

This rule, the most radical change to U.S. immigration policy in decades, would deem immigrants unacceptable for citizenship if they received, or are likely to receive, even a modest amount of support from non-cash programs – Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, housing subsidies. Established to support individuals and families while they work to achieve self-sufficiency, these programs have always been essential in providing a step up to those trying to take a step forward.

Mbabaya Bagundi moved to Maine in January 2011 from a country besieged by war and ripe for personal retaliation. Leaving her family, leaving everything was agonizing, a move she cannot forget: “It’s like you are swimming in the sea and you don’t know which direction you are going. When I arrived it was so cold, snow everywhere.” As she walked to the Florence House shelter in tears, she thought, “I should go back. I can’t live here, can’t speak the language; I’m isolated and depressed.”

Bagundi came with a bachelor of arts degree in administration and management, an executive in one of her country’s largest companies, and presiding over an organization seeking to empower young girls. Upon arrival, alone and afraid, she received needed, albeit limited, assistance for housing and food before finding work in housekeeping at a local facility. “Having these benefits gave me the strength and determination to move forward, to fight for empowerment and become self-sufficient,” she said.

After seven long months, her husband and children joined her. Now, in a position of significance in one of Maine’s largest social service organizations, she is well positioned to help others.

“As a leader in the immigrant community, I serve on many community boards, always encouraging individuals to help themselves as I have done with myself, my husband and my four children, now all college-educated,” Bagundi said.

With the proposed public charge rule, a state and nationwide crisis looms on the horizon. Deterred from seeking assistance out of fear of reprisal, putting their applications for citizenship in jeopardy, thousands of immigrants, especially their children, are put in a precarious position verging on the edge of hunger, homelessness and sickness.

National reports reveal that millions have already stopped applying for assistance. And, for the first time in history, income thresholds become a central issue in immigration decisions: Low incomes or assets are weighted negatively, carrying the possible denial of citizenship, while those with high incomes or assets encounter relaxed restrictions.

Immigrants, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, are the main drivers of growth in the U.S. workforce through 2035. In the Portland Press Herald, Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher reported on a Maine Community Foundation and Maine Chamber of Commerce study warning, in Gallagher’s summary, that “the economy will suffer if Maine fails to attract, integrate and train more immigrants”: Eighty-three percent of growth in the U.S. workforce will come from immigrants and their children.

Each year, The Opportunity Alliance serves over 20,000 Cumberland County residents. We focus on building a stronger community through programs that provide economic assistance, early childhood education, community-building services and health and wellness supports. This proposed public charge rule will significantly undercut efforts to address hunger, sickness and poverty by deterring immigrant families from accessing critical public programs.

Now is the time to lift our voices in support of our immigrant friends and neighbors. Every community member and resident of Maine has a role to play in stopping this harmful proposed rule from going any further.

Join us in protecting immigrant families from this short-sighted, mean-spirited and ill-conceived assault on our nation’s health and well-being. The Department of Homeland Security is accepting public comments on the proposed rule. Submit a comment by Monday in opposition to the proposed rule through the Food Research & Action Center’s comment platform at frac.org/publiccharge.

Restricting pathways to residency and citizenship runs counter to American values and interests, to a nation which has always welcomed and supported immigrants.

It is not the American way.