CWS Public Comment Opposing “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds” (DHS Docket No. USCIS-2010-0012) to Expand Definition of “Public Charge”
As a 72-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Protestant, Anglican and Orthodox communions, Church World Service (CWS) stands firmly opposed to this rule. Current law established by Congress already bars immigrants from accessing most benefits and who may become a “public charge,” making this rule unnecessary. The current family-based immigration system also already requires sponsors to assume financial responsibility for family members who they wish to sponsor. By expanding the list of benefits considered when deeming someone a “public charge,” this proposed rule would hurt families and communities.
This rule would penalize individuals for having children, which goes against the tenants of our faith and is in opposition to the family values our country purports to cherish. It would keep U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) from reuniting with their family members, as under these changes, even a signed affidavit of support may not be enough, in some cases, to allow families to reunite. This rule would force parents to decide between providing for their children’s immediate needs and risking their ability to obtain permanent residency or reunite with a family member – a choice that no parent should have to make. It would keep hardworking people from immigrating and make immigrant families, most of which include U.S. citizen children, afraid to seek help when they need it.
The rule would also scrutinize job skills, job history, periods of unemployment or job changes, and education. This neglects the fact that many people immigrate to the United States in order to improve their lives. Many individuals do not have access to education and career opportunities in the country where they were born. Women in particular may not have had access to employment in their home country, which should not preclude them from seeking opportunities in the United States. These individuals may not have specific plans or a job offer prior to arriving in the United States, but that is no indication of how they will succeed once they are here. Under this rule, only immigrants with assets or income of at least 250% of the poverty level would be considered to have a positive factor for purposes of public charge determination. This may create a permanent subclass of immigrants who may be “too poor” to obtain permanent resident status and who lack access to the means by which they could improve their wellbeing and prosperity. These provisions would essentially wipe out the concept of the “American Dream.” Stories of individuals coming to United States with little more than the clothes on their backs would be no more than a distant memory, rather than the ongoing American success story.
Speculation around the proposed rule has made immigrant families afraid to obtain needed health care, food, and other critical benefits and services. This is even happening to individuals who are exempt from these policies, demonstrating that fear and confusion is wreaking havoc on our communities. This rule would force millions of families to choose between the denial of status and keeping their families fed and healthy, thus exacerbating serious problems such as hunger, unmet health needs, child poverty, and homelessness, which negatively impact our collective prosperity as a country. It would also undermine our education system, as it would decrease children’s school attendance and performance. It would even penalize individuals who file taxes and utilize the credits that they rightfully qualify for. Immigrant families pay billions in taxes every year, and by penalizing individuals for playing by the rules, this rule flies in the face of fairness and equality.
This rule is diametrically opposed to our most basic values as a nation and devalues the fact that many of our top doctors, scientists, inventors, and entrepreneurs are the children or grandchildren of immigrants who came to the United States with little more than the clothes on their backs and dreams for a better future. This proposed rule would make the pursuit of that dream impossible and would leave all our communities worse off. Investing in nutrition, health care, and other essential needs keeps children learning, parents working, and families strong, and allows all of us to contribute fully to our communities. We urge the administration to abandon this proposed rule and to instead affirm the importance of immigrant families to our communities and country.