Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Self-sufficiency and the American dream

Compassion | New rule could keep immigrants who receive welfare from getting their green cards
by Charissa Koh & Lynde Langdon
Posted 8/21/19, 04:11 pm

When Emma Lazarus wrote her iconic poem “The New Colossus” in the 19th century, no public welfare system existed in the United States to help needy immigrants. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” she wrote, with no expectation that the tired, poor, huddled masses would get a handout from the government.

Instead, immigrants received support from their friends, neighbors, fellow church members, and ethnic groups. Lazarus, who was Jewish, volunteered for the Hebrew Emigrant Aid Society and helped establish a technical school for needy Jews who immigrated to the United States from Russia. Though the country did not want immigrants to become “public charges” dependent on the government, the United States did not expect them to be financially independent, either.

A week ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security posted a revision to the public charge rule. Previous law said the government can deny entry or legal permanent residency to anyone likely to become “primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.” The new rule includes a list of programs that can disqualify someone from permanent residency—such as Medicaid or food stamps—and creates factors that could heavily weigh the decision for or against them.

The U.S. government would use employment history, previous tax returns, and education level, among other things, to decide whether someone met the requirement not to become a public charge. If individuals have relied on public benefits that just became off-limits, getting their green card could be out of reach. New York state, New York City, Connecticut, and Vermont sued the Trump administration on Tuesday to block the changes from taking effect.

In an interview with NPR about the public charge rule, Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was asked whether Lazarus’ poem, part of which is inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, was part of the American ethos. “They certainly are, he said, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

The statement fits with the Trump administration’s strategy of focusing the U.S. immigration system on attracting skilled workers instead of keeping families together. “We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said a few days before the rule was posted. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

Matthew Soerens, U.S. director of church mobilization at World Relief, told me the concepts in Lazarus’ poem are “central to the idea of the American dream. … For Christians, that ideal is rooted in our view of humanity as made in the image of a Creator God who has placed into each person the potential to create and to contribute.”

Last week’s rule is consistent with immigration reform legislation passed in 1996, Andrew Arthur, resident fellow in law and policy at the Center for Immigration Studies, told me. “The regulations that were implemented by the Clinton administration were probably not as true to Congress’ intent in the ’96 act as the Trump administration regulations,” he said.

The United States uses a sponsorship system: To enter the country, immigrants must have someone committed to pay back the government for any cash benefits they consume. The Trump administration announced its intent to enforce that rule in May, but Arthur said he did not know of any cases of it happening. Sponsors repaying the government does not come up that often, he said.

Soerens pointed out that the new rule will not save taxpayers much money. Studies have shown immigrants already do not use public benefits at a high rate. “The debate right now is not really between the fully open immigration implied by Lazarus’ poem or fully closed immigration, but on where to draw the line: who is excluded and on what basis?” Soerens said.

Allergan Allergan Allergan offices in Westport, Ireland

Opioid settlements

Two Dublin, Ohio–based pharmaceutical companies chose to settle for a total of $15 million rather than become defendants in the first federal trial on the drug industry’s responsibility in the opioid crisis.

Endo Pharmaceuticals on Tuesday announced its $10 million settlement with two counties in Ohio. Endo also agreed to supply Cuyahoga and Summit counties with blood pressure medication worth $1 million. But the company admitted no wrongdoing, fault, or liability. The second company, Allergan, agreed to a $5 million settlement. It still has some claims outstanding over its generic opioids.

The Ohio counties’ lawsuits against other companies and distributors are scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 21. The day before the deals went public, the Summit County Council passed a resolution allowing settlements with companies with less than 10 percent of the U.S. opioid market share.

Opioids have killed more than 400,000 people in the United States since 2000. The crisis has sparked more than 2,000 lawsuits across the country. —Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong An apartment complex made from shipping containers in Midway City, Calif.

Creative housing

A homeless shelter in Des Moines, Iowa, is tackling homelessness with a resourceful housing plan: shipping containers.

The federal Housing Trust Fund program and the Iowa Finance Authority awarded $2.7 million to a homeless shelter in the capital city’s downtown to build a 24-unit apartment building, The Des Moines Register reported. Central Iowa Shelter and Services is planning to build the apartments out of shipping containers turned into small studios reserved for homeless people who have completed the city’s program to teach them how to be good tenants.

“This puts us on track to, if not end it, make a massive dent to helping individuals who are consistently homeless find permanent housing,” Central Iowa Shelter and Services Executive Director Melissa O’Neil told the Register. “We’re very excited. We wish we already had the 24 units.”

Apartment residents will receive support services including healthcare, case management, training programs, and meals. The project is estimated to cost $4.3 million. —R.L.A.

Basic living conditions

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the U.S. government should provide food, clean water, soap, and toothpaste to immigrant children in its custody.

The three-judge panel in San Francisco dismissed the Trump administration’s challenge to a lower court’s findings that the government failed to provide safe and sanitary conditions for the children as required by a 1997 settlement agreement. The government argued that the agreement was vague and “safe and sanitary” conditions didn’t require specific accommodations like soap.

“Assuring that children eat enough edible food, drink clean water, are housed in hygienic facilities with sanitary bathrooms, have soap and toothpaste, and are not sleep-deprived are without [a] doubt essential to the children’s safety,” the judges wrote. —R.L.A.

Charissa Koh

Charissa is a reporter for WORLD based in Austin, Texas. Follow Charissa on Twitter @CharissaKoh.

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Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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  • BjW
    Posted: Thu, 08/22/2019 08:29 am

    $4.3 million for 24 units. That is $179000 per unit. IF 2 people live in each unit, that is about $90,000 per person. The food, traning, healthcare -- is that included or is it additional. Either way. Does not sound like a good deal to me.


  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Fri, 08/23/2019 12:52 pm

    Re: "Self-Sufficiency and the American Dream"

    The article states, "When Emma Lazarus wrote ... [she had] no expectation that the tired, poor, huddled masses would get a handout from the government." Let's see, in 1883 there were no federal income taxes. Last I looked, the Feds get a tremendous "handout" from all sorts of people. What goes around, comes around.