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“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
— Plaque inside the Statue of Liberty
“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
— Update proposed by Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
The Trump administration has literally declared war on the Statue of Liberty and everything it stands for. Its new “public charge” rule — which Cuccinelli announced during the same Aug. 13 radio appearance in which he offered his rewording of the Statue of Liberty poem — aims to make the idea of the United States as a “land of opportunity” a relic of the past.
Set to take effect Oct. 15, the rule would deny the issuance of green cards granting permission to live and work in the United States to legal immigrants deemed “more likely than not” to receive public benefits. Those benefits include things like food stamps, Section 8 housing vouchers and Medicaid.
Implementing this rule will not just punish legal immigrants who use public benefits. It’s written so broadly that it can even bar green cards to those judged “likely” to use them for a total of 12 months or longer during a 36-month period. Essentially, it’s a “No Trespassing” sign aimed at anyone who isn’t wealthy and educated, particularly for those coming from what President Donald Trump has called “shit-hole countries.”
This is not the America I grew up believing in. I was raised by immigrants and am proud to work with immigrants every day. Throughout history, millions of people have immigrated to the United States with nothing, sometimes needing help with housing or medical care to get started before going on to build successful lives, careers and families.
Immigrants are often entrepreneurial, attracted to this country by the idea that you can succeed if you have a good idea and a strong work ethic. A few years ago, researchers calculated that more than half of all startup companies worth $1 billion or more were founded by immigrants. They also estimated that, as of 2015, the nation was home to 2.1 million immigrant entrepreneurs who had less than a bachelor’s degree.
How many of these budding job creators will we now turn away?
Sadly, even though it hasn’t officially taken effect, the updated public charge rule has already done damage. After the idea was first floated in 2017, public health leaders found it had a chilling effect, causing immigrants to avoid seeking services, including nutrition programs for children and pregnant women.
In one survey of California health care providers, more than two-thirds noted an increase in parental concerns about enrolling children in Medicaid or food stamps, and 42% saw an increase in patients missing scheduled health care appointments.
Administration officials deny that this policy change, which the Migration Policy Institute estimates could affect up to 27 million people, is fueled by racism or xenophobia, arguing it’s just about “self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.” But these are also the same people who take migrant children from their parents and lock them in cages.
It’s been said that when it comes to Trump’s immigration policy, “the cruelty is the point.” This new policy to punish legal immigrants drives that point home yet again.
Anthony Galace is health equity director of The Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit based in Oakland, California. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.