What American Dream? The Dangers of the Proposed Republican Public Charge Rule

Mary Cunningham
April 11, 2018

At the heart of the American experience lays the dazzling idea of the American Dream. We profess the dream proudly, holding it as a symbol of our nation’s deepest values: acceptance, equal opportunity, and prosperity achieved through hard work. Yet, how can we profess this to be true if not everyone is given an equal chance to prosper and if we penalize people for utilizing the very programs that are designed to help them get ahead?

On March 28, 2018 the Washington Post relayed the latest update on the proposed public charge rule, which could change the process for immigrants seeking legal residency. The draft of this change has not been formally published and is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget for approval. This proposed public charge rule demonstrates another attempt by the Trump administration to restrict family-based immigration and cut off access to public benefits that help families meet their basic human needs. Yes, this rule, if it comes to pass, would apply to families who have come to the United States legally in search of a better life. These are the people who have gone through the system and as our Republican friends like to say patiently “waited their turn in line” to obtain green cards. These are the families and individuals who would be penalized if this proposed rule comes to fruition.

So what exactly does public charge entail?  Under the proposed draft, individuals would be required to indicate their reliance – and for the first time any family members’ reliance – on public aid programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing assistance, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and even refundable tax income credits obtained through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). People who depend on these programs, or who have children who rely on them, could potentially be derailed on their path to a green card or even deported. The draft regulation penalizes those applying for lawful permanent resident status if they have big families and if they have limited income. This would be particularly harmful to mixed-status families with U.S. citizen children where parents will have to decide whether their child should use programs like Medicaid or school lunches if such use could lead to deportation of a family member seeking a green card.

So basically, individuals would be forced to choose between catering to their basic human needs or protecting their immigration status. If this rule passes it will have a deleterious effect on families. It would separate families who rely on public aid and increase the risk of falling into poverty for those who do not enroll in public aid programs for fear of being forced to abandon family reunification. An article in the Huffington Post estimates that this proposal puts 670,000 children at risk of falling into poverty. While there is bipartisan consensus that our nation’s children should have access to food, healthcare, and other basic necessities, this rule threatens to upset the balance completely.

The argument in favor of instituting a public charge rule is that those applying for a green card should be “self-sufficient.” However, it is estimated that around the same percentage of native-born Americans use public assistance as foreign-born individuals. Will our brothers and sisters not be able to achieve the American Dream solely because they need health insurance, food or housing for their families? I surely hope not.

We expect more information on the public charge rule soon and will keep you updated with analysis and ways to engage