Charge ’Em Out: Trump Administration Looks to Make Immigrant Life Harder

This week, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli reworded Emma Lazarus’ famous poem to CNN’s Erin Burnett.

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge,” said Cuccinelli. When Burnett pushed back and reminded him that the words “wretched,” “poor” and “refuse” were also in the poem, Cuccinelli said that it was “referring back to people coming from Europe.”

Given President Donald Trump and his administration’s new policy, they’re putting to practice the re-wording of Lazarus’ poem.

Months in the making, the Trump administration rolled out a new regulation expanding the meaning of the term “public charge,” which makes it more difficult for certain low-income immigrants to obtain temporary visas or permanent residence. The new rules, according to an 800-page government document, would make it easier to reject green cards for people who use public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and government-subsidized housing.

The change could affect any

potential immigrant without a college degree or with a low credit score, among many other

constraints.

“Today, USCIS, the agency I head as part of the Department of Homeland Security, has issued a rule that encourages and ensures self-reliance and self-sufficiency for those seeking to come to, or to stay in, the United States,” said Cuccinelli to reporters on Aug. 12. “It will also help promote immigrant success in the United States as they seek opportunity here.”

Cuccinelli said new arrivals should demonstrate the type of self-reliance and self-sufficiency that’s a “core principle” of America.

“In the case of my own family, my Italian grandfather played this role, sponsoring two of his cousins, Mario and Silvio, to come to America,” said Cuccinelli. “Once they arrived, my grandfather wanted to make sure his cousins spoke English—certainly well enough to work—and listed my father in that effort, as well, to make sure they could speak English well enough to work. And they did.”

The rule changes have drawn widespread condemnation from elected officials, labor leaders, nonprofit leaders and advocacy

organizations.

“President Trump’s new public charge rule is yet one more example of his administration turning its back on people fighting to make a better life for them and their families,” stated New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Under this rule, children will go hungry; families will go without medical care. I am committed to defending all of New York’s communities, which is why I intend to sue the Trump administration over this egregious rule.”

New York State Assembly Member Michael Blake added that Trump is killing the idea of an American dream as the country’s known it.

“The path to legal status and access to public assistance should not be dictated by the amount of money in your pockets or your level of education,” stated Blake. “Families come to America seeking opportunity. The dream of a better tomorrow is exactly what my parents were in search of when they came to the Bronx from Jamaica, which is the same for millions of immigrants coming to our shores. At her best, America is a land that welcomes those yearning for the best for the future of

their children.”

First enacted with U.S. immigration law in 1882, and the same year the Chinese Exclusion Act went into effect, the “public charge” standard meant that certain groups of people were a “burden on society.” The CEA barred Chinese laborers because they endangered the “good order of certain localities.” The term resurfaced in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 that allowed the government to deport those considered a burden. It resurfaced again during President Bill Clinton’s administration when public charges could only be considered for cash benefits.

Camesha Grant, vice president for Community Connections and Reach at Food Bank For New York City, said the government is hurting those who need the most help and it’s another attempt to force immigrants out of the country.

“The policies coming out of the federal government are already having a chilling effect on some of our most vulnerable neighbors, scaring them away from SNAP and other vital resources like shelter and healthcare,” stated Grant in a statement. “This rule is the latest attempt to intimidate immigrants and their families—it would lead to thousands more New Yorkers going hungry every day.”

Grant noted that without access to SNAP, New Yorkers would be forced to turn to organizations like hers that are already stretched thin.

“The strenuous efforts of the nonprofit sector are not sufficient to make up the funding gap created by bad public policy,” Grant said.

Tom K. Wong, director of political science at the University of California, San Diego and director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Center, authored a study detailing how the public charge rule would impact undocumented immigrants in the country.

According to the data, released this week, undocumented immigrants are 15.1 percent less likely to get emergency healthcare services for themselves when needed when they are told about proposed changes to the public charge rule; 18.3 percent are less likely to get preventive healthcare services for themselves; 9.1 percent are less likely to get free immunization services, such as flu shots, at County Public Health Centers; and undocumented immigrants with children are 6.6 percent less likely to get emergency healthcare services for their children when needed when they are told about proposed changes to the public charge rule.

The report also states that undocumented immigrants with children are 8.6 percent less likely to get preventive healthcare services for their children when they are told about proposed changes to the public charge rule and 12.4 precent less likely to get free immunization services at County Public Health Centers.

“The public charge rule that the Trump administration released today assaults the ability of taxpaying, legal immigrants to protect their health and feed their children by punishing them for accessing the most basic benefits needed to survive,” said 32BJ President Kyle Bragg in a statement. “If this final rule becomes law in 60 days, it could force new American families to forego healthcare, go hungry, or become homeless in order to secure a future in America for themselves or their families. Furthermore, the rule wildly extends the definition of those who would ‘likely’ become a ‘public charge,’ thereby severely restricting legal immigration.

“As one of the nation’s largest unions with majority immigrant membership, we support our allies who are already challenging this reprehensible rule in court, so that Black, Brown and white immigrants will continue to receive equal treatment and immigrants aren’t forced to choose between a green card and basic survival,” concluded Bragg.