David R. Jones (137830)
David R. Jones Credit: Contributed

Racist. Cruel. Diabolical. Those are the words that describe what President Trump is doing in the name of the American people to deny entry to more immigrants while punishing hundreds of thousands who are here legally.

The Trump administration plans next month to redefine “public charge” in a way that gives broad latitude allowing immigration officers to reject visa petitions and green cards for individuals who have taken advantage of programs like Medicaid, food stamps, or even the Earned Income Tax Credit.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) rule change would force some immigrants to make brutal choices: let their children go without needed benefits, including medical care and food assistance, or jeopardize their chances of staying in the country legally. The rule clearly targets children, their working parents and people of color. New York City estimates it would harm 475,000 immigrants and cost our local economy about $164 billion a year.

“The Trump administration’s hateful and racist rhetoric will not change who we are as a beacon to the world,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “We are joining cities and municipalities across the nation to fight this rule with every tool at our disposal.”

Make no mistake: The Trump administration understands the cruelty of its proposal and is forthright in stating that it doesn’t care. Does this serve the national interest to implement a policy with such barbarity? What civilized governments admit to plotting to increase poverty and misery within their own borders? Well, the Trump administration not only admits to this intention, it boasts about it.

A “public charge” is someone that the United States deems likely to be primarily dependent on the federal government for subsistence. The new rules are filled with small details designed to ensnare hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who would otherwise be perfectly eligible for green cards or other visas according to immigrant advocates. For instance, it would penalize people for using visa fee waivers, which are prominently advertised on US government web sites. It could also force 200,000 married couples each year to either leave the US or to live apart indefinitely.

Sadly, the damage has already begun. Fear is palpable. There is anecdotal evidence showing that immigrant families are preparing for the loss of benefits by taking additional jobs (some off-the-books) and moving in with other families. The de Blasio administration projects the loss of $235 million in federal food stamps, nutrition assistance and state supplements if 274,000 noncitizen New Yorkers withdraw from the programs.

Primary care doctor visits are expected to dramatically decline and NYC Health + Hospitals is bracing for an onslaught of emergency room visits by patents afraid to go to their primary physicians, in essence waiting to seek care until they are in crisis. H+H estimates the rule could impact 350,000 NYC patients and hit the public health system with a loss of $362 million in the first year. That is a tremendous cost in dollars and pain and suffering for our people, all of it easily avoidable.

It appears the point of this exercise is to force immigrants underground, which is a fool’s errand because history shows they will not be driven out of the country in mass. They do the work many Americans just refuse to shoulder. Hardworking immigrant laborers depend on these low-wage jobs for survival. But given this president’s record of aggression toward black, brown and yellow immigrants, the current state of play is probably just the beginning. The worst, I fear, is yet to come.

DHS only determines who gets to stay in the United States by deciding whether to approve or deny applications for extensions and change of status (i.e., international student to H-1B) or applications for green cards from people who are already here. But it’s clear the Trump administration wants these new, restrictive public charge standards to also be adopted by the State Department which decides who gets to come to the United States from abroad.

The State Department has already instructed its consular officers to apply a stricter set of public charge standards since January 2018, but the DHS rule is even more demanding and the ultimate plan is for the two agencies to be in lockstep.

In the same way the Trump administration kidnapped children from their parents at the Mexican border, this public charge gambit discriminates mostly against children and blocks them from receiving the care they need to grow into healthy, productive adults. Shame on Congress if it fails to reverse, retroactively, this reckless action to deny immigrants and their children lawfully residing in this country, access to public programs and health care services.

David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 170 years. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.