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The Trump Administration is once again placing unnecessary and dangerous barriers for immigrants seeking a better life in our country. This time, it’s the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) — an agency I used to work for — rolling out a public charge rule that punishes legal immigrants who use public benefits.

Their message is clear — the American Dream is reserved only for those who can afford it. But that’s a deeply misguided and dangerous message. During my time in the Obama Administration, I saw the tears of joy running down people’s faces once they grasped their naturalization certificates. These new citizens saw the United States as a beacon of hope and a place they could come for greater opportunities. The Trump Administration wants to rob people of this opportunity with its new policy.

Under the current criteria, a public charge is someone who uses government assistance programs like Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Medicaid. An applicant will be docked for using any of these programs when USCIS determines whether to approve their application. The rule also requires applicants to show annual household income of $41,150 for a couple with no children on up to $73,550 for a family of five or higher.

This harmful rule places low-income immigrants at a significant disadvantage for obtaining status in the United States. Foreign-born workers are more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations and less likely to be employed in management, professional and related occupations. Service occupations are typically lower paid than their managerial counterparts, which makes the income threshold impossible to meet for many.

The current acting director of USCIS, Ken Cuccinelli, recently noted in an NPR interview that the language of the Statue of Liberty would be better read as “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” The current administration wants the public to believe that immigrants are coming to the United States for a free ride. However, immigrants are more likely to have a job and work. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, foreign-born men were more likely to participate in the labor force than native-born men (77.9% versus 67.3%), while foreign-born women were as likely to participate than native-born women (54.3% versus 57.6%). This rule eats away at the heart of the American Dream and why people come to the United States.

This rule should have never come into existence and should be promptly corrected with legal action. We should open our door to immigrants who want to contribute to the United States, not close it based on wealth. It is time for the administration and Congress to work in tandem to create solutions that embrace legal immigration and make sure everyone has an equal opportunity at chasing the American Dream.


David Adeleye is a former political appointee in the Obama Administration, serving at both the White House and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.