The Trump administration this week announced new rules aiming to deny permanent residency and citizenship to migrants who receive food stamps, Medicaid and other public welfare.
This might dissuade poorer and low-skilled potential immigrants from entering the country. Currently, many count on getting public benefits in immigrant-friendly states like California as they dream of legally obtaining a foothold in the United States.
By redefining the longstanding “public charge” law, the White House is saying that migrants will be blocked from entering the country if they are likely to need public assistance.
Additionally, those already here and using public services will not be able to obtain green cards or U.S. citizenship.
“To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient,” Trump said in a White House statement. “Large numbers of non-citizens and their families have taken advantage of our generous public benefits, limited resources that could otherwise go to vulnerable Americans.”
It is estimated that there are more than 20 million non-citizen legal residents of the country and more than 10 million unauthorized or “illegal” immigrants, many of whom are long-term residents.
The White House said that half of all non-citizen households include at least one person using Medicaid, the government-run health program.
Without a doubt, that many non-citizens drawing such benefits impacts the funds available for existing citizens. An estimated 78 percent of households headed by a non-citizen with no more than a high school education use at least one welfare program.
In announcing the changes, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said that the Trump administration is reinforcing “the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America.”
As you might expect, not everyone agrees. The San Francisco Bay area daily newspaper East Bay Times immediately ran an editorial slamming the decision.
The editorial argued that, “Now (Trump) wants to use his new ‘public charge’ rule to gut the treasured principle the Statue of Liberty symbolizes: America as a nation that embodies hope and opportunity for those seeking a better life.”
The editorial further made the point that most immigrants don’t come to this country wealthy. “We can’t expect people — immigrants or American citizens — who come from poverty to be able to financially lift themselves to sustainable levels without an assist.” They closed their argument by flatly stating, “This must not stand. We are better than this.”
After all, the poem on the Statute of Liberty famously reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” To which Cuccinelli has now officially added the words “who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge!”
The actual poem passage continues, “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
In followup interviews, Cuccinelli doubled down on the point that we should welcome only immigrants “who can stand on their own two feet, be self-sufficient, pull themselves up by their bootstraps, again, as in the American tradition.” Asked if the policy “changes the definition of the American dream,” he responded that “we invite people to come here and join us as a privilege ... no one has a right to become an American who isn’t born here as an American.”
Asked by CNN anchor Erin Burnett about what America stands for, he said: “Of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe, where they had class-based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.”
The new regulation, known as a “public charge rule,” was published in the Federal Register on Monday this week and will take effect Oct. 15.
So what do you think? Was the original intent of “lifting our lamp” envision public assistance on a modern day scale? Or did it just mean, like Tom Bodett in the old Motel Six commercials, “We’ll leave the light on for you?” Voice your opinion in The Post’s weekly online reader poll asking the question: “Should immigrants getting benefits be denied citizenship?”