On Tuesday, the Trump administration issued a final rule empowering federal officials to deny green cards to legal immigrants who have received certain public benefits or who are deemed likely to do so in the future. Democrats have attacked this “public charge” regulation as racist, but it is not racist to ask immigrants to be self-sufficient.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), put it this way: “President Trump’s 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.”
Cuccinelli is right, and the public charge policy seems narrowly tailored to address the kinds of long-term services that suggest a lack of self-sufficiency. The benefits considered under the policy include food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, and housing assistance, Politico reported.
The public charge policy does not consider enrollment in the Children’s Health Insurance Program or enrollment in Medicare Part D, nor does it consider the use of Medicaid by children, pregnant women, or new mothers during a 60-day period. Enrollment in the supplemental food program WIC, for low- to moderate-income pregnant women, infants, and children, would also not contribute to a public charge determination.
Polling suggests this rule is popular. A full 73 percent of voters said they would support a new requirement that incoming immigrants must be able to support themselves financially, according to an America First Policies poll. Americans want to welcome new immigrants — but they don’t want to see them go immediately on the public dole.
Yet, as if on cue, Democrats denounced the policy as racist and cruel.
“This administration’s cruel new policy called [Public Charge] is another racist policy that targets the less fortunate & is intended to prevent certain immigrants from becoming citizens & voters. It’s wrong & goes against our values. I will reverse it as president,” Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, tweeted as the final rule became public.
This administration’s cruel new policy called #PublicCharge is another racist policy that targets the less fortunate & is intended to prevent certain immigrants from becoming citizens & voters. It’s wrong & goes against our values. I will reverse it as president. https://t.co/Vs5CnowKv4
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 13, 2019
Unfortunately, Cuccinelli twisted the words on the plaque of the Statue of Liberty in an NPR interview defending the public charge policy. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet, and who will not become a public charge,” Cuccinelli said.
A new Trump administration rule would penalize immigrants likely to need public benefits like nutrition or housing aid. pic.twitter.com/ZBIpHVimF4
— Morning Edition (@MorningEdition) August 13, 2019
The USCIS acting director was trying to make an important point: public charge immigration laws date back to the very time the Statue of Liberty was being constructed. Congress passed the first comprehensive immigration law in 1882, and that law included a provision to deport immigrants or exclude them from the country on the grounds that they would become a “public charge.” The statue was constructed from 1875 to 1886. The plaque featuring the quote “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” dates from 1883, the year after the immigration law.
While Cuccinelli had a good point, his tweaking of the famous words struck many as offensive, and two other 2020 Democrats attacked him for it.
“The words on the Statue of Liberty won’t be changed at the racist whims of this administration—and neither will the character of this country,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) tweeted.
The words on the Statue of Liberty won’t be changed at the racist whims of this administration—and neither will the character of this country. https://t.co/doMBSpGJjz
— Beto O'Rourke (@BetoORourke) August 13, 2019
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro suggested that the trump administration is “effectively” “taking the words off that plaque” on the Statue of Liberty.
“What it looks like is that this administration is not just against undocumented immigrants, it’s also against legal immigrants. And on top of that, it seems to only want immigrants that look a certain way,” Castro said on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. “I believe what they’re looking for are it seems like well-to-do immigrants from some European countries.”
Donald Trump wants to use immigration policy to create an America in his own image.
His public charge rule is further evidence of his racist agenda that treats some immigrants as good, and others bad pic.twitter.com/TS3fK4Tuk3
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) August 13, 2019
Like Beto and Booker, Castro did not explain how he got from the public charge policy to the issue of race. The public charge policy has nothing to do with race and everything to do with self-sufficiency. Yet the former HUD secretary tweeted that “the public charge rule is further evidence of his racist agenda that treats some immigrants as good, and others bad.”
Ironically, Castro praised previous immigrants who “started off with nothing, but they were able to become successful small business owners or good employees and pass on wealth to their children and their grandchildren.” This kind of work ethic is exactly what the public charge policy is meant to incentivize.
The public charge policy is meant to encourage immigrants to be self-sufficient — to stand on their own two feet or seek non-governmental assistance, or the kinds of government assistance not covered under the policy. The Trump administration wants more of the kind of immigrants Castro praised, rather than immigrants who will come to enjoy America’s government benefits.
In demonizing the policy, Castro inadvertently defended the basic idea behind it. But never mind that — it’s a Trump policy restricting immigration, so it must be RACIST.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.