President Trump’s administration will begin implementing new rules that will direct immigration officers to reject naturalization, visa petitions and green cards to applicants deemed likely to become a “public charge,” according to The Nation.
“The rules about public charges have masked discrimination in the immigration process for more than a century,” said Chris Richardson, a former consular officer for the State Department.
The purpose of the “public charge” was to prevent Irish Catholics immigrating to the United States and dates back to the Immigration Act of 1882. This act prevented entry to “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” The law was altered in 1892 and 1917 to ensure the deportation of “undesirable aliens.”
Richardson was a visa officer in countries like Nigeria and Nicaragua. He judged the worthiness of immigrant applicants based on their wealth and privilege. “That’s bad enough,” he said, “The public charge designation has long been a racist tool. But with these new regulations, the Trump team has found a way to use bureaucracy to maximize the suffering of immigrants.”
From the 1880s to the 1940s, officers used the public charge rule to block hundreds of thousands of people from entering the United States. Public charge was heavily used until World War II, but it did not fully disappear as it still barred admission of unmarried women, gays, lesbians and disabled people. People who were barred did not meet “American norms.”
The current process for applicants to reunite with relatives is through the visa process. This process requires an “affidavit of support,” which designates a sponsor who promises to support the applicant financially.
The new rules “will direct immigration officers to reject naturalization, visa petitions, and green cards for individuals who have taken advantage of assistance like Medicaid, food stamps, or even Earned Income Tax Credits,” Richardson wrote.
Officers also look at the “totality of the circumstances,” which includes factors such as age, health, family status, education and financial status.
This means that a predominately White consular official judges the worthiness of predominantly Brown immigrant-visa applicants. In some circumstances, officers have denied entry to children with cerebral palsy and delayed entry because an applicant’s wife did not speak English.
Richardson wrote, “The rules are laid out in our Foreign Affairs Manual. There is no scoring system or algorithm; the decision is left to the consular officer.”
Ian Smith, one of the individuals who helped craft President Trump’s expanded public-charge regulation, was forced to resign from the Department of Homeland Security because of ties to White nationalists.
Richardson wrote, “The Trump administration, having been unable to build its promised wall, is now using the public charge to meet those same racists, xenophobic aims.” The changes were scheduled to go into effect in January 2019.