What would you sacrifice for someone you love? Would you endure physical and sexual violence? Would you leave the comfort of your own home to be exposed to risks such as abduction, exploitation or even death? That is the case for approximately 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. as of 2017, according to a Pew Research study.
The risks for immigrants do not stop after crossing the border. A recent policy proposed by the Trump administration and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 27 could potentially limit who gets citizenship privileges and services as an immigrant. The five-to-four majority vote on this policy will apply in every state but Illinois for now, according to policy analyst Julia Gelatt.
The Public Charge rule, which went into effect on Feb. 24, aims to deny a green card, a visa or admission into the United States to any person who is likely to become dependent on the government in the future, according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. These grounds of inadmissibility will apply to those seeking entry at the borders and those applying for lawful permanent residence in the country. In other words, the rule applies to those who desire to adjust their status in the United States.
Although the public charge has been part of the U.S. immigration law as grounds for inadmissibility since the late 1800s, the Department of Homeland Security expanded the definition of “public charge” so that visa applicants could be denied for being more likely than not to use public services. Daniel Bennett, associate professor of political science at John Brown University, explained the recent relevance of the policy in regard to the current administration. “I think that the policy has resurfaced now because the Trump administration is actually implementing the rule change,” he said. “The rule has been around for a while, but our previous presidents did not see the need to implement it.”
The reasons behind the public charge policy are mainly to ensure that non-citizens in the United States are not a strain on public resources, according to a statement released by President Trump. However, some believe this policy could hold a more dangerous, underlying idea. Aminta Arrington, assistant professor of intercultural studies at JBU, argued that this policy is based on stereotypical views of immigrants.
“The whole assumption of the rule is based on the stereotype that immigrants are lazy and not on statistics or research,” she said. “There is this idea that immigrants just want to come here and take advantage of our public benefits, and it just doesn’t take into account the fullness of the immigrant story.”
Some of the benefits subject to public charge consideration are Medicaid and cash assistance for income maintenance, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Denied access to these services and restrictions for visa application pose many concerns for this demographic, specifically regarding potential family separation. By denying green cards and visas to an expanded population of non-citizens who belong to American families, the rule will separate nearly 200,000 U.S. citizens and lawful residents each year, according to Boundless Immigration. Arrington stated that family separation is one of the most pressing concerns regarding the policy. “What are we saying as a country when we imply that family is less important than someone’s income?” she said. “It is a very hyper form of individualism if we are not taking this family view.”
Even though thousands of U.S. households could be affected by the policy, the impact on American citizens is still minimal compared to non-citizens. “I think most American citizens will not be impacted because they have the privilege of not thinking about their citizenship,” Arrington said. “Americans, even those from a Christian background, are taught to look after their own interest, so most of them are not really going to think about it at all.”
In addition to family separation as a potential impact on the country, the economy could be affected if no opportunities for citizenship or visa applications are offered to low-income immigrants. Because the Trump administration’s reasons for the public charge rule are based on the assumption that immigrants are harmful to the economy, their contributions to the country are often overlooked.
Katrina Reimer, freshman intercultural studies major, argued that immigrants impact the U.S. economy in different ways. “There is a lot of discrimination in people saying that immigrants are burdening our welfare system,” she said. “While they are here, they pay taxes, take all the unwanted jobs and create other sources of employment for other people.” A 2018 study conducted by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities also suggests that 65.7% of immigrants work in jobs that are important to the economy compared to 62.3% of native-born citizens. The public charge rule could prevent companies in such areas from hiring staff if these workers can no longer come or stay in the country.
Although the conversation surrounding immigration policies and rights continues, there are still no definitive solutions that can benefit both parties. However, Bella Bennett, junior political science major, said that the public charge rule is not a viable answer to the problem. “Instead of cutting people off at a certain threshold, helping them transition out of these services into a life that they can truly thrive in is the goal,” she said. “We need to reform these welfare services to make it easier to support people to get back on their feet.”
Arrington said she believes that, by implementing the public charge policy, the nation is not looking at immigrants’ potential. “The U.S. is depriving itself of the creativity and vitality that comes from immigrants,” she said. “We only want immigration from White European countries that have the same standard of living, but the rule is leaving out many people from other countries who will not meet that threshold because of global inequality.”
“I think it is possible to strike a balance in that we should not have so-called ‘open borders,’ but at the same time recognize the fact that all people are rich-bearers,” Bennett said. “We should not make it harder for someone to come to this country, provided they meet all the other criteria, just because they don’t have as much economic capacity.” Additionally, Bennett stated that there is an aspirational component for immigrants who come to the country. “I get the worry of others becoming a drain on social services, but I am also concerned that this policy diminishes the aspirational quality of immigration,” he said. In the words of the New York representative, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “The American Dream isn’t a private club with a cover charge; it’s the possibility of remaking your future.”