It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to have to choose between putting food on the table to feed your family and protecting your own immigration status. But that is exactly what the Trump administration will be forcing immigrants to do with its latest policy proposal.
From the Muslim ban to the false characterization of Central American immigrants as “criminals,” the administration has fought on nearly every level to restrict immigration, separate families and demonize those who choose to make a life in our country. Now, its latest policy involves a plan to expand the public charge rule, which would affect millions of immigrants across the country.
Currently, U.S. immigration officials use the term “public charge” to refer to individuals primarily dependent on the government for cash assistance or long-term care. The existing public charge rule places an unfair burden on immigrant families, and the administration seeks to expand the definition, essentially widening its net to preemptively include anyone who seems likely to use certain cash, health, nutrition and housing assistance benefits. This will make it more difficult for immigrant families to access government programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) experience myriad issues through the lens of race, class and reproductive rights — and, as a community, we would be severely harmed by an expansion of the draconian public charge rule. The AAPI community, like many other communities for whom it is common for several generations to live in the same household, will be disproportionately affected. For example, many AAPIs will find it difficult to bring their parents, grandparents, or extended family to the United States from their countries of origin or will be forced to make the hard choice of leaving them behind because of fear of the potential repercussions to their own immigration status. The resulting separation can create severe emotional distress for families who are unable to be reunited, especially for long periods of time.
AAPI women and girls will also lose the ability to make critical decisions about what happens to them and their loved ones. For example, not only will mothers be forced to choose between participating in benefits programs that they, or their families, may desperately need and protecting their legal permanent resident (LPR) status — they must also navigate what it means to live in a country that does not want to help them. New public charge rules could also change how, and if, these women decide to grow their families, as many worry that having a larger family will negatively affect their immigration status.
It is clear that the public charge rule would have widespread effects on AAPI immigrants and other immigrant communities. Instead of creating additional restrictions, we should be working to help more immigrant families settle into a safe and stable life.
Removing access to benefits programs will result in serious financial difficulties, driving some immigrant families further into poverty and restricting access to fresh food and health care. At a time when our immigrant communities continue to grow, we must expand access to benefits programs and create a greater network of support that allows immigrant families to thrive. It is shameful that the administration is working to enact policies that will make our immigrant communities more fearful.
Americans pride ourselves on being an open, accepting country that offers help to those who need it. How can we claim to reflect these values if we continue enacting policies that punish immigrant communities who are working hard to raise their families and put down roots in America?
Everyone deserves the right to make choices about our bodies, our lives and our families — and no amount of shaming or fearmongering will change that. We must all speak out against this inhumane public charge rule and demand dignity for our immigrant communities.
Sung Yeon Choimorrow is the executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, dedicated to building power with Asian American Pacific Islander women and girls. She is a Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter at @schoimorrow.