Last week, the Trump administration proposed an expansion of the “public charge rule” under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that would impose stricter standards for immigrants seeking legal permanent residency in the United States.
The new criteria, set to go into effect in mid-October, will favor highly-skilled, high-income immigrants and make it harder for immigrants who use public benefits to obtain a green card.
Just writing this piece is difficult for us. We are women of color. We are first-generation Americans. We are the children of war. We are also physicians who know that immeasurable amounts of unearned privilege allowed us to grow from tired and poor to standing on our own two feet.
And so, here we are. Model Americans. OB/GYN specialists. Mothers of children who never have to worry about their parents being deported or their grandmothers not being allowed admission into their country. We are the American Dream story that Ken Cuccinelli, the current Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, would salivate over.
But the model-immigrant story we represent is a lie: No person, let alone an immigrant, has succeeded without the help of a community. The new changes to the public charge rule would have deferred our dream of becoming physicians and now endangers the very people we stood up on our own two feet to serve.
Under current INA rules, green card applicants may be denied if they are deemed likely to become a “public charge” of the government. The new changes to the public charge provisions would explicitly penalize those who use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps, housing assistance or federal disability benefits. In other words, immigration officials will use this rule to implement state-sanctioned racism and classism that will deny immigrants permanent status and others entry to the United States based on their credit scores, wealth and educational background.
This will hurt the overall health and well-being of immigrant families, targeting the people we take care of every day. We have already seen how this administration’s current immigration policies have stopped legal immigrants from accessing health care for themselves or their families for fear of deportation. The new public charge rule will further exacerbate this problem, forcing millions of families to choose between staying together or the basic things they need to stay healthy. Existing health disparities will widen as immigrants are discouraged from accessing children’s health insurance, food assistance, and maternal and infant nutrition. Fewer children will be vaccinated. Fewer pregnant people will receive prenatal care. Fewer people will be treated for communicable and preventable diseases.
To be sure, there are people that believe only those with advanced degrees, perfect health, good credit scores and endless family wealth should be allowed to enter our country.
But as physicians who care for immigrants, and as children of immigrants ourselves, we know first-hand that there is no perfect immigration story. This rule change fails to recognize and honor the incredible strength and distinct struggle of each immigrant’s journey.
Our worth as community members should not be measured against our necessity for basic human rights in times of need. The hardships our families and countless other families endured adds immense value to the fabric of our communities. Our ability to empathize with and expertly serve diverse communities is firmly rooted in our lived experiences as children of refugees and revolution. We must remember that the American ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility go hand-in-hand with community and justice.
Ultimately, health and safety should not be dependent on one’s immigration status. We call for everyone, and especially medical professionals, to speak up to protect immigrant families, to promote access to health care, and to denounce the public charge rule.