The draft of a new rule from the Department of Homeland Security was recently leaked to the press. On top of all the new restrictions and regulations related to immigration over the past sixteen months, this rule will examine the “public charge” potential of would be permanent residents. In other words, will this person now or in the future depend on government assistance programs? If an individual is considered likely to be a public charge, that person will not be admitted to the U.S. If already residing here, that person will be denied the chance to become a permanent resident. So much for “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Worse than pulling in the welcome mat, however, is the news that their U.S. citizen children who receive benefits will be linked to their parents’ immigration status hopes.
Benefits under consideration in the draft, still subject to change, should sound familiar. They are the social safety nets available to all U.S. citizens, including the U.S. born children of immigrants. Mere eligibility could jeopardize a green card application if an immigration official deems one’s child likely to receive one of the following:
- Nutritional assistance—WIC and SNAP
- Health benefits—including Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
- Educational aid—Pell Grants and Head Start
- Homelessness, housing, and transportation assistance
Not only will this rule condemn families to poverty, but it forces them to choose between advancing their legal status in this country or obtaining benefits for their children’s health and well-being. Accepting the benefits their children are entitled to receive could translate into deportation for the parent, separating them from their children. So, helping the children jeopardizes family stability. When families do not have access to basic health care and nutritional aid our entire community suffers. Preventive services, treatment of illnesses, and proper nourishment to maintain a healthy lifestyle keep all of our children safe, but left untreated pose a risk to all our children. This policy would not only harm immigrant families but the economy and well-being of the entire community.
As people of faith, we are called to support immigrants and their families. Ancient rules about grain harvest insured food for immigrants. For example: “When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your field, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you” (Lev 23:22). The modern equivalent of this sustenance might be SNAP.
The people who will be affected by this rule live in our communities, attend our schools, and work to support their families. Instead of stripping away their resources, we should be helping our neighbors live a healthy and content life. When this rule is published in the Federal Register the public is urged to offer comments telling government officials how this rule will affect all the families in our communities.
The NC Council of Churches will continue to monitor the draft rule. We urge you to sign up for our Faith and Immigration newsletter if you have not already done so, and when the rule is published we will send you suggested comments that you can use to contact officials.
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