When the Trump administration released its final version of the “public charge” rule, which merely enforces longstanding federal law ensuring legal immigrants would not become reliant upon the welfare system, the response from activists, pro-amnesty groups and Democratic politicians was predictably hysterical and hyperbolic.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powel (D-Florida) tweeted, “This is another cruel attempt by this President to rip away basic needs like health care, housing & food from families & children.”
Speaking from her presidential campaign bus, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asserted it was part of an “ongoing campaign to vilify a whole group of people” and shows President Trump is “ignorant” of “who we are, how we were founded and what are values are.”
Rep. John Larson, (D-Conn.) echoed Harris’ charge that the rule “is not who we are as a nation,” while his state’s attorney general, William Tong, joined the choir of critics stating the administration’s actions were a betrayal of the nation’s history.
“This country was built by immigrants like my parents who worked themselves up from poverty. This rule is the latest chapter in this Administration’s cruel and racist campaign to intimidate and punish immigrants of color,” contended Tong.
Others claimed public charge laws run afoul of the sentiments inscribed on the plaque at foot of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
But that seems totally irrelevant, for a number of reasons:
The original public charge law was passed in 1882. The Statue of Liberty, which celebrates Franco-American friendship, wasn’t erected until 1886. And New Colossus the sonnet by poet Emma Lazarus was not added until 1903. It should also be noted that New Colossus was never a statement of U.S. immigration policy, but rather the verbal musing of an ardent socialist.
But historical facts aside, the notion of self-reliance and self-sufficiency are at the core of the American Dream. The dream that immigrants have been pursuing for generations upon generations.
When asked about the charge that public charge laws unfairly target poorer immigrants, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), rightly noted, “A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient. Many have been through the history of this country.”
There are many misperceptions about the rule. For example, it is not the lone consideration to be used in determining whether an immigrant is granted a green card or not. It is one factor among the “totality of the circumstances” immigration officials weigh in the decision making process.
The assumption that setting a standard of self-reliance and self-sufficiency is somehow anti-immigrant, classist or racist is just wrong. The history of the nation is filled with stories of immigrants arriving with a few dollars in their pocket, but a wealth of entrepreneurism and drive.
Those who rail against new efforts to enforce this century-old law as hate-driven or biased against “people of color” expose their own biases and ignorant assumptions. The roots of their opposition is not in the law nor the history books, but – to paraphrase former President George W. Bush – the soft bigotry of low expectations.