After targeting Muslims, asylum seekers, and immigrant families, the Trump administration has now set its sights on low-income immigrants. On August 15, the Department of Homeland Security announced a change to its Public Charge rule that is slated to go into effect on October 15, 2019.
Currently, a public charge is an immigrant whose livelihood is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. The result of this DHS label?: A denied visa or green card.
The recent rule change expands the definition from primarily dependent on public benefit to a partial dependency on public services such as Medicaid, public housing, or food stamps—even when combined with a reliable income.
Most deplorable is the greater discretion it gives the administration to deny visa and green card applicants to significantly more immigrants, just based on their potential to become a public charge. A family of four making $62,000 a year that accrues benefits could face deportation under this new rule.
As of today, only 3 percent of applicants are denied a visa or a green card due to the public charge rule. With the raised consideration for financial assets, as many as 52 percent of new Asian immigrants alone could be at risk of being denied a visa or green card.
While it’s true that Iranians have an extremely high achievement rate after immigrating, not everyone is safe from the classist ruling.
While it’s true that Iranians have an extremely high achievement rate after immigrating, not everyone is safe from the classist ruling. According to the American Community Survey, as of 2017, around ten percent of Iranian households in the US live in poverty, and around seven percent receive food stamps to supplement their income. That amounts to thousands of people living peaceably, now under threat.
The public charge rule originates from the same nativist fervor that fueled Donald Trump’s candidacy. It actually began as a loaner law from Britain, adjusting their ‘poor’ laws to prevent vagrancy into public charge laws. One such colonial law, from 18th-century Massachusetts, required ship captains to post bonds for their passengers who were too poor to sustain themselves.
In the mid-19th century, these state laws multiplied in an attempt to stymie a wave of impoverished Irish immigrants seeking refuge in the U.S.. The Supreme Court struck these laws down as unconstitutional, so they were repackaged as the Immigration Act of 1882, which included the first federal public charge provision.
The exact language, which remains today, was ambiguous enough to be useful: anyone likely to become a public charge could be denied entry to the country, but the likelihood was—and still is—subjective. This allowed immigration officers to keep Irish immigrants out then, and its expansion today would grant DHS indeterminable power to remove immigrants.
At that time in American thought, Irish people were considered ethnically different from Anglo-Saxon Americans. They were believed to be “less than civilized” and not truly white. Up until the 20th-century, only free white people could be naturalized, and the definition of white was mercurial at best. Europeans were distinguished by hue and category, from “Anglo Saxon” down to “Asiatic.”
Trump sees Iranians as brown Muslims differentiated from Arabs by geo-politics.
This should be a telling lesson for Iranian-Americans about the fickle and self-serving definition of whiteness in America. These laws were written by people who had specific ideas about who was white. Now, Trump uses his own idea of who is white, and Iranians do not figure into it. Hell, he can tweet things like this without a hint of irony. Trump sees Iranians as brown Muslims differentiated from Arabs by geo-politics. Who is white in America is a matter of convenience and control.