The ideals of America’s compassionate immigration heritage are repeatedly besieged today. One of the most recent attacks includes a proposal, released on Sept. 22 by the Department of Homeland Security, that could have a dramatic impact on immigrants, temporary visa holders and U.S. employers. As Stuart Anderson has written in Forbes, “If fully implemented, the ‘public charge rule,’ as it is known, could be the most far-reaching immigration policy change made” by this administration.
American immigration law is notoriously convoluted and confusing, but here are some basics. First, long ago, Congress established that the U.S. government can deny certain green cards and temporary visas to anyone who “is likely at any time to become a public charge.” However, there is no precise definition of what “public charge” means, and the law allows immigration officers to consider age; health; family status; assets, resources and financial status; and education and skills. In addition, most family-based green card applications also require a sworn statement of financial support from a sponsoring relative.
The proposed change introduces 15 additional factors for Homeland Security to scrutinize and which could become “negative factors” that convince the reviewer that an applicant is likely to become a public charge. The proposed factors include being older than 61, younger than 18, or having several children or other dependents, among other things. Some of these could have excluded my Indian “brother”; others might have denied my son’s biological great-grandmother the refuge she found here. They surely would have kept out most of my own immigrant ancestors, several of whom came as indentured servants, all of them hoping for greater opportunity and freedom. The effect? Impeding and reducing legal immigration.
In sixth grade, I won the state and then regional essay contests sponsored by the Daughters of the American Revolution. My essay was about the Statue of Liberty, in whose honor and for whose benefit Emma Lazarus penned her famous words — “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
The experience influenced my next Halloween costume (Torch Girl for me). But more lastingly, Lazarus’s words sunk deep into my young heart and my mind and planted there a firm conviction that to be worthy of Lady Liberty, America the beautiful must continue to hold certain ideals aloft.
Our country championed these ideals of opportunity and hope when it offered refuge to the grandmother of my son’s birth mother — a Vietnamese widow whose husband, an officer in the South Vietnamese Airborne, was killed in a North Vietnamese “re-education” camp. Our country held up these ideals when it welcomed my immigrant “brother,” originally from Chennai, India, to Stanford University in 1991; when he became an American citizen seven years ago he mused upon the “confidence and the wisdom underpinning an inspired set of founding documents” and lauded the “great country that has given me so much, (which) knew at its inception that it would always be a work in progress and continues to draw from every part of the world the people to do that work.”
One can sail above these new criteria — if one is solidly middle class and can demonstrate a household income above 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. That’s currently $41,150 for a couple with no children and $73,550 for a family of five.7 comments on this story
The current system is not without its flaws, but it has served America and American values well. Moreover, the proposed changes would, by the DHS’s own estimate, affect more than 500,000 temporary visa applications each year. Compliance expenses could surpass $1.3 billion over the next decade — a huge underestimate if the State Department starts applying the same standards to millions of applicants abroad.
Simply put, these rules must not pass. Until Monday, Dec. 10, the public can submit comments for or against this proposal on regulations.gov.
We are a nation of people — tired, poor, huddled, wretched, homeless — but yearning to breathe free. At its best, these are the ones for whom America stands as a beacon of light, hope and freedom, the ones we have long welcomed to our shores and woven into our American tapestry.