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Trump’s “Public Charge” Rule is an Affront to Human Values

Despite massive public outcry, the administration is forcing ahead a regulation to target low-income immigrant families.

By Josh Leach on August 14, 2019

On Monday, August 12, the Trump administration revealed the final version of its so-called “public charge” rule. (Public charge is a term used in immigration law to refer to a person who is primarily dependent on the government for support.)

Like the earlier proposed version published in October 2018, the final rule is designed to reduce legal immigration by lowering the number of people who are eligible for green cards and visas. It would do this by massively expanding the list of factors the government can weigh against immigrants in deciding whether to grant admission. Under the final rule, immigrants can be barred from entry or adjustment of status on the basis of health conditions, modest incomes, or simply for using a range of public benefits that should be accessible to all—including food stamps and housing vouchers.

These new exclusions are set to go into effect 60 days from the publication of the final rule. Unless courts overturn this latest assault on immigrant families, the redefinition of “public charge” could be used to target untold numbers of people seeking lawful entry to the United States, including the family members of U.S. citizens. Donald Trump has repeatedly made racist statements against immigrants of color and spread demonstrably false claims about immigrants’ use of public benefits. The “public charge” rule is another expression of this president’s white nationalist views and policy agenda.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) version of the “public charge” rule affects only determinations of “admissibility” made by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As such, it does not expand the list of factors that can be used to deport an immigrant on the basis of defining them as a likely “public charge.” However, the Department of Justice is reportedly working on a similar regulation to expand the “public charge” grounds for deportability. Such a rule would place immigrants’ rights in even greater jeopardy, exposing thousands of long-term legal residents to possible deportation and separation from their loved ones.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s rule is interfering with immigrants’ access to public benefits even beyond those it directly targets, as many people are afraid to use services out of fear of negative consequences. By preventing families from participating in the safety net programs to which they are entitled under the law, the administration is harming the health and wellbeing of the whole community. The administration’s new exclusion also ignores the many ways in which wealthy and powerful people benefit from the public purse and applies an unrealistic standard to immigrants that more than half of U.S.-born citizens would not be able to meet, according to a recent study.

By finalizing this regulation, Trump is once again simply taking to further extremes, injustices that are of much longer standing. The “public charge” exclusion has long been an unfair and discriminatory feature of U.S. immigration law. Dating back to racist “nationality quotas” passed in the 1920s, the “public charge” definition was used to bar many Jewish refugees escaping Nazi persecution in Europe, including many of the people UUSC worked to resettle in the years before and during World War II.

By denying people future opportunities in the United States on the basis of current poverty or other disadvantages, the “public charge” exclusion creates barriers of wealth and privilege. In this way, it violates the moral values of our country. As UUSC wrote in a public comment on the proposed version of the rule last year, “U.S. presidents of both major parties have expressed a commitment to a vision of the United States as a homeland for the persecuted and destitute, where it is possible to pursue new opportunity and a decent life regardless of race, creed, or material advantages.”

UUSC and our supporters were among the hundreds of thousands of people who submitted public comments on the proposed version of the rule. As DHS was forced to acknowledge in the final text, “DHS received 266,077 comments on the proposed rule, the vast majority of which opposed the rule.” Nevertheless, the administration is charging ahead with a regulation that plainly violates the public conscience and our values as a country. UUSC will continue to work in solidarity with our partners to overturn this unjust rule and bring our immigration laws into harmony with the principles of human equality.

Photo Credit: iStock – FatCamera

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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