While it has been in effect since 1882, the term “public charge” was never defined and therefore has meant different things over time. Different standards have been applied. It is a nebulous set of standards that can be adjusted to fit a particular climate or set of principles, depending on the current President’s views and value of international newcomers.
Today’s change is straightforward: the government is trying to stop immigration, not illegal immigration, but all immigration. Full stop.
As of October 15, 2019, when these changes will go into full effect, applicants for admission, adjustment of status, and non-immigrant visa holders trying to extend their stay will have to prove by unreasonable standards they will not become a public charge at any time in the future. This means they cannot have used public benefits such as SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, Section 8 housing, or TANF for 12 months in a 3-year period -or- will need to earn annually more than 250% above the federal poverty guidelines. For millions of families, native-born or newcomer, these benefits have been a lifeline in the short-term, and a ladder to economic success in the long-term.
There is no difference between a Mexican immigrant coming to the U.S., working, saving money to bring his family over, and creating a better life for his children than what our grandparents did when they came from Slovenia or Poland or Greece 100 years ago. How many of our grandparents earned the equivalent of $63,000 when they came here? They would have been ineligible to enter the United States, and we wouldn’t be here. Are we going to deny other families that same opportunity? Are we going to deny native-born Americans the ability to benefit from the thousands of companies started by immigrants, now employing major sectors of our total workforce?
Immigrants use federal benefits at a lower rate than native-born Americans. 32.5% of native-born citizen adults receive SNAP benefits and 29% of noncitizen adults receive SNAP benefits. The benefit being, according to the USDA, every dollar in new SNAP benefits results in $1.80 in total economic activity in Ohio. There are more than 37,000 households receiving SNAP benefits in Ohio, and the average benefit per person is $124.12 – that’s a huge stimulus of roughly $8 million a year. The downside being that disenrollment in public benefits creates a disproportionate economic loss: if there were a 25% disenrollment in SNAP nationally there would be an economic loss of $24.1 billion and 164,00 jobs lost. In food security terms, this will also stress an already stressed-out food bank system, pushing more families to hunger.
The changes to the public charge will create a chilling effect, and already has, which is affecting immigrants. Enrollment rates are dropping. Parents are being forced to choose between applying for a green card or using SNAP benefits to feed their family or take their sick children to the doctor. In what world is that right? In what nation is that acceptable?
Public benefits are a safety net that help families get ahead when times are good and help families stay out of abject poverty when times are bad. They allow people to go to school to become better educated and earn more instead of working just to make ends meet. The public charge changes will now use that to deny an immigrant the right to stay here or the right to adjust their status and get on track to become full citizens. As it stands, 1/3 of U.S. citizens would fail the public charge criteria if it were applied to everyone. Do we want every third neighbor forced out simply because they do not earn enough money? What about the immigrant student who has a degree from a great university but doesn’t earn a high enough salary? Shouldn’t they be allowed to stay?
Ohio has the most educated immigrants in the country, but Cleveland’s median income is $27,800 – nearly half of the state’s median income. And 13.6% of immigrants speak a second language, compared to 6.9% statewide.
This means the new changes will significantly affect Cleveland and Northeastern Ohio at a disproportionate rate. However, immigration has helped mitigate the population loss is Cuyahoga County and immigrants fill jobs in the high demand sectors like professional services, healthcare, and manufacturing. We cannot forget that 44% of American Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or child of an immigrant. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs’ parents were immigrants. Big Lots was started by a Russian immigrant, Capital One was founded by a British immigrant. Like the Heinen’s on East 9th and Euclid? Thank an immigrant. Feel good about the world-class healthcare we have at the Cleveland Clinic? The CEO is an immigrant.
Immigrants stabilize our economy and population. They bring new blood and fresh ideas into our communities. We are imposing a wealth test on our newcomers through these new standards – a standard 1/3 of Americans couldn’t pass, a standard most of our ancestors couldn’t pass, a standard my own mother wouldn’t pass when she came here from former Yugoslavia, but a standard The President of the United States thinks will keep out “the tired, the poor and the huddled masses yearning to be free.
On the beloved door of our nation, at the Statue of Liberty are these words:
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This anti-“what it is to be American,” and this anti-free market growth policy must be reversed. The soul of our nation is at stake.