US must stay true to its values and fight the public charge rule
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On Monday, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services appallingly altered Emma Lazarus’ iconic 1883 poem, “The New Colossus,” at the base of the Statue of Liberty. The poem begins with the phrase, “Give me your tired and your poor” to which Cuccinelli glibly added “who can stand on their two feet and who will not become a public charge.” While Lady Liberty has stood as a beacon of freedom and hope for new immigrants to this country, Cuccinelli reminds us that there have always been discriminatory terms and conditions that determine those who are deemed eligible for this freedom.

Less than 10 years after construction of the Statue of Liberty began and 13 years after Chinese immigrants helped unify the country by constructing the Transcontinental Railroad, Congress passed the first-ever federal legislation to ban an entire population based on race, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In the following decades, these exclusionary immigration policies were expanded to include a broader list of Asian countries. Heading into World War II, there were only two countries in the world that excluded immigrants based on race: Nazi-controlled Germany and the United States.

If the words in our Constitution are true, that we are created equal and deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness, then our laws and systems must reflect that. We must all have the ability—and the unalienable rights—to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


The original public charge rule dates back to the same year Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act and, like the Exclusion Act, was also used for discriminatory purposes to target immigrants fleeing the potato famine at a time when the Irish were not considered white. Both policies reflect the deep animosity against immigrants who were perceived as being undeserving. Cuccinelli realizes this when he cited his own Italian and Irish heritage. Yet, instead of correcting the wrongs that were cast upon his ancestors, he has opted to resurrect a painful and by-gone discriminatory agenda from the dredges of our nation’s history.

President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP-led Maricopa County board decries election recount a 'sham' Analysis: Arpaio immigration patrol lawsuit to cost Arizona county at least 2 million Conservatives launch 'anti-cancel culture' advocacy organization MORE’s public charge rule reinforces discriminatory attitudes against immigrants, and the fear caused by this rule will put millions of immigrant families (and their U.S citizen children) already in the United States at risk of losing their health insurance. This includes the 1.4 million Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander families at risk of disenrolling from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 55 percent of recent green card applicants from Asian countries did not have incomes above 250 percent of the federal poverty line—the only heavily weighted positive factor in the new public charge determination.

However, there is action we can take, including oversight and accountability through Congress over these xenophobic policies. Earlier this year, Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuHouse to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month Padilla introduces bill to expand California public lands Democrats praise Biden for recognizing Armenian genocide MORE (D-Calif.) introduced the “No Federal Funds for Public Charge Act.” Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) has already announced she will introduce companion legislation once Congress comes back from recess. Organizations like the National Immigration Law Center have declared they will file suit against this administration’s attempt to create an invisible wall against immigrants they deem unworthy.

We are at a point of national reckoning. We are grappling with our identity of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. We must not abandon hope and see with our own eyes the potential of the Statue of Liberty and our own Constitution’s words. That the content of one’s character, and not a pre-judgment of our worth, can allow us each to contribute to the prosperity of the entire nation and all of its people.

Kathy Ko Chin is the President & CEO of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), which works to influence policy, mobilize communities, and strengthen programs and organizations to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.