By Marilyn Silverman
Annals of American history can easily document the gargantuan number of families who made the decision to say goodbye to their homelands and embarked on a trek to a new land— a new land with new hope for a better tomorrow. As they reached our shores, the glorious, inspiring words of Emma Lazarus greeted them on a bronze plaque emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty for all to see. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe.” Well, here’s some shocking news. According to David Dyssegaard Kallick, Deputy Director, Fiscal Policy Institute, in an email interview, there is an individual who works in the White House who has altered these inspiring words to read, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” Who said these words? Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Kallick said, “the rule denies green cards and visas to immigrants if they are or if they are deemed likely to need federal, state and local government benefits including food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid.” So now apparently our government leaders are implementing policy based on a fortune teller’s crystal ball, that is, what might happen in the future.
An astronomical and unacceptable number of immigrants will suffer the consequences. Kallick continues, “We estimate that 24 million people will experience a chilling effect as a result of these draconian rules. That is the number of people in a family with at least one immigrant who is not a naturalized citizen of the United States and used at least one of the benefits named in the public charge rule. Of these we estimate that six million will go so far as to avoid getting benefits for which they rightfully qualify.”
Why will families make this decision? The word “deportation” looming on their immediate horizons, justifies this decision. You want to prepare a nutritious meal for your family. You want to take your children to the doctor if they are ill. Well now you can forget that if you want the United States to be your home address thanks to this new presidential rule.
It’s not just the individual who will suffer. As Kallick continues “When immigrant families lose SNAP… it also hurts local grocery stores…when they lose Medicaid it hurts hospitals and doctors and nurses. These ripple effects are expected to create a loss to gross domestic product of $24.1 billion and when there is a GDP loss there is also a parallel loss in jobs. We expect 164,000 jobs to be lost across the country as a result of these changes.”
The revised public charge rule does not allude to Medicaid for children. Nonetheless, parents are worried lest their decision to continue having their children enrolled in this program will hurt their own immigration status. The United States has historically welcomed immigrants representing every nook and cranny of the global community and should continue to do so. Kallick quotes Cuccinelli, “If they [immigrants] don’t have future prospects of being legal permanent residents without welfare, that will be held against them and all immigrants who can stand on their own two feet …would be welcome.”
In an email interview with Randy Capp, Director, Research, Migration Policy Institute, “the forward-looking totality of circumstances test is designed to assess whether applicants for green cards are likely to use benefits at any time in the future. This test considers age, education, English proficiency, employment, income, assets, health care.”
Research is just being conducted on the heartbreaking decisions families, primarily Latinos, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders—the population groups that will be impacted—will be compelled to make in the coming days. According to Capps, the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded, “Reduced participation in Medicaid and other programs would negatively affect the health and financial stability of immigrant families.” In case you’re wondering why there is a plethora of confusion about its provisions, Capp said, “the rule itself is over 800 pages long…it’s way too complicated for most immigrants to understand without legal advice.” The Urban Institute conducted a study and uncovered disturbing findings when families stop depending on these programs. “The coping strategies…reducing spending on food…foregoing access to …nutritious food and going to food banks.” You wonder as well if the public was adequately informed of this revised public charge. Capp said, “The administration has not issued any user friendly materials to explain the rule to the public.”
Immigration officials, according to the National Immigration Forum, is in essence punishing immigrants for benefiting from these much- needed programs and the punishment assumes the form of denying the issuance of green cards or of getting their temporary visas extended and the frightening final specter–deportation.
This date will go down in history as a day of shame—August 14, 2019. This is the date the Department of Homeland Security issued the final public charge rule. But there is hope. On the heels of the shameful announcement, Judge George Daniels, Southern District of New York, issued the first nationwide preliminary injunction to block this revised public charge.
Top-echelon city officials convened a meeting recently with ethnic media at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism. Commissioner Bitta Mostof, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs said the Mayor will be broadcasting that it is safe to be the recipient of government benefits and furthermore, the Mayor has invested $30 million in legal services and an additional $19 million to grassroots organizations so that the immigrant community knows their rights.
A cursory glance at the history of public charge—as observed by the Migration Policy Institute, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, public charge served as grounds for refusing noncitizens admission to the United States. However, since the year 1940, the public charge provision has been used much less frequently. But the current presidential administration would very much like to change that in the year 2019.
As Kallick said, “America has always grown and thrived as it has welcomed immigrants. That was true a hundred years ago and it continues to be true today…if we send back every immigrant who ever lived in poverty and every immigrant who ever benefited from public assistance this country would be a pale shadow of itself .”