We aren’t unique: Millions of families across the country sometimes struggle to get by. When families face hard times, successful anti-poverty programs, such as food assistance, allow us to get back on our feet and thrive. But the new policy announced this week by the Trump administration — the “public charge” rule — will turn these critical support programs into weapons to target and punish immigrant families for hitting the same hard times that all families do, forcing lawfully residing immigrants to choose between feeding their kids and obtaining a green card. If the courts do not block this new rule before it goes into effect in October, all communities will suffer — and the United States will no longer be the land of opportunity. Instead, we will become a country where it’s impossible for families like mine to realize our full potential.
From the start of his administration, President Trump has unleashed attack after attack on immigrant and refugee communities. But the Department of Homeland Security’s announcement this week of its new rule is among the most pernicious moves yet. The regulation is essentially a racially motivated wealth test that would make it much more difficult for low- and moderate-income immigrants to obtain green cards by declaring that immigrants who use an expanded range of public services are ineligible. It would mean, for many families, that falling on hard times might result in being deemed a “public charge” and therefore ineligible to stay here permanently. This policy will discourage tens of millions of people from using the programs their tax dollars support, and if it had been in effect when I came here as a child, I have no doubt that my family’s immigration story would have been impossible. I wouldn’t be a citizen. And my nieces and nephews, who are all contributing greatly to this country in the fields of education, the environment, finance and the corporate sector, would not have been born here.
Under this new policy, many aspiring citizens will be penalized in their efforts to obtain a green card if they are likely at any point to fall on hard times. Worse, it weaponizes the use of government support services such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which ensure that millions of Americans have access to affordable health care and can put food on their tables. This will have dire consequences for countless U.S. citizen children of immigrants who came here legally.
The Trump administration’s rhetoric about the policy implies that immigrants are somehow a drain on our country’s vast resources. But that isn’t true at all. Immigrant families — even those with humble beginnings — make tremendous contributions to the United States over time. According to the National Academy of Sciences, immigrant families create a net benefit, not a cost, of $30.5 billion a year for state and local budgets by the second generation. By the third generation, that net benefit rises to $223.8 billion a year.
While Trump goes on xenophobic rants against undocumented immigrants, calling them invaders, animals and other dehumanizing epithets, his policies have been consistently targeting immigrants who are lawfully present. Like many of Trump’s previous actions — from the bans on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries to the attacks on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and temporary protected status, to the dismantling of our asylum laws, which has caused unspeakable harm to families seeking safety at our increasingly militarized southern border — this racial wealth test will separate families while stoking fear of and among immigrants, refugees and communities of color.
But this one goes even further: By fundamentally transforming our legal immigration system to favor the wealthy and white, it disenfranchises communities of color and deters them from securing life’s most basic necessities. Out of all the immigration policy changes Trump and his chief immigration adviser, Stephen Miller, have developed, this one would have the most fundamental effects on our legal immigration system and wreak the longest-lasting changes on our country.
It’s clear that Trump has no real interest in finding solutions on immigration. Instead, his administration is aiming to prevent immigrants from becoming permanent residents, and eventual citizens and voters. Trump is trying to roll back the country’s changing demographic trends.
All of us — regardless of what we look like or where we come from — must reject Trump’s divisive tactics. Trump knows that our unity creates the sort of power that ultimately threatens his presidency, and he’ll continue to work hard to divide us. That’s exactly why he’s so focused on policies like this one that aim to take away our communities’ collective power. We must fight it. Our future — the very soul of our country and our democracy — is at stake.