The Akron Beacon Journal, Aug. 16
When the Trump White House first proposed changing the “public charge” rule concerning immigrants who want to stay or enter the country, the opposition was overwhelming. During the public comment period, such respected organizations as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the administration not to go forward. The opponents included business leaders, educators and public officials, from state and local levels, from both political parties.
Last Monday, the administration went ahead, anyway. The Department of Homeland Security announced revisions that will make it harder for legal immigrants who use government benefit programs to gain permanent legal status, or a green card. The result will be an altered flow of legal immigration, reducing the number of legal immigrants with lower incomes.
This is something that should concern Akron and other cities seeking to halt the decline of their populations and even see an increase. Immigrants can play a key role in adding residents. More, they help to counter the fallout from an aging population, strengthening the Social Security and Medicare trust funds by boosting the number of workers compared to retirees.
What does the administration propose?
The country has had a version of the public charge rule since the 1800s. The stated purpose has been to deny entry to those deemed unable to take care of themselves and thus likely to drain public resources. That is reasonable, and since 1999, it has worked better, defining public charge as receiving most of your cash income from the government.
Unfortunately, going back in time, the concept long has been abused, deployed to keep out “undesirables,” or in a racist manner. For its part, the administration has expanded the criteria and given officials wider leeway in weighing whether an immigrant is likely to become dependent. It has included such programs as Medicaid, food assistance and housing subsidies.
Ken Cuccinelli, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, talks about granting legal status to those “who can stand on their own two feet.”
What the administration neglects is that most immigrants of modest means work, often in tough circumstances. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes in a report, released last week, they make up more than one-third of the workforce in some industries. Their mobility helps fill local worker shortages, and their children tend to be upwardly mobile.
The country benefits from their presence. In addition, just 1 in 5 taps public assistance, and when they do, it usually involves a short time. As legal residents, they are eligible.
A leading worry about the administration’s rule is the additional fear it will generate in immigrant communities, many in need choosing to forgo benefits, the quality of their lives harmed as a result. For instance, staying away from food assistance could mean that children fail to receive proper nutrition and thus do not perform to their capabilities in school. Another concern is that families could split, even entire families leaving the country, which is something the White House apparently favors.
Recall that this rule change isn’t about illegal immigration. It involves those living here legally or seeking to enter legally. It gives officials the discretion to project whether an applicant will become dependent on public assistance. Which way will the current administration lean? Applicants are set up to fail. Yet that isn’t their story as a rule.
The country needs to make constructive changes to its immigration system. This isn’t such a step. It is another dark, disappointing and cruel effort to intimidate. Most of all, it is ill-informed about immigration today and what is required to make improvements. No wonder the opposition was so large.