You may have heard that the Department of Homeland Security is moving ahead with stricter policy guidelines about who is eligible to receive a green card. The new rules heavily penalize anyone who receives any public assistance, including food assistance or medicaid. This is extremely dangerous because is puts families in a position of having to choose between their health and their immigration status. This New York Times article is a good summary of the policy. Or you can read the whole thing for yourself.
The final draft of the proposed policy just went public, and there is a 60-day comment period. Please do some research and then submit your own comments. My letter is below. I submitted my comments through MIRA, a local advocacy group, but you can submit yours directly through the Federal Register online.
I am the pastor of Eliot Presbyterian Church in Lowell, Massachusetts. Eliot Church has been a multi-cultural congregation since the late 1970s when we began welcoming refugees from Cambodia. Later, we welcomed Cambodian, Brazilian, Cameroonian, Ghanian, Kenyan, and other immigrants and asylum seekers. Today nearly 2/3 of the congregation are immigrants, and many others are first-generation Americans. Over the last 35 years, Eliot Church has supported immigrants not only with their spiritual needs, but by helping them connect with employment, education, child care, healthcare, and other crucial services to success in the United States. Those immigrants have expanded Eliot’s faith and traditions by adding their own voices. We are a vibrant, joyful congregation not in spite of the immigrants in our community but because of them.
As a pastor in a multi-cultural congregation with a high proportion of immigrants, I am deeply concerned about the public-charge proposal on both a practical and a moral level. So many of the families and individuals who have participated in the life and ministry of my congregation have relied on public benefits to help them gain solid financial footing in the United States. Many of them are now financially independent, tax-paying members of our community. The public-charge proposal would deny similar opportunity to new immigrants and threatens the security of those who are now here on green cards requiring renewal in the future. The proposed policy has already caused fear in members of my congregation and increases the likelihood that they will opt-out of benefits that are crucial for the health and well-being of their families.
On a moral and spiritual level, this proposal stands in direct opposition to the mandate in both Jewish and Christian scriptures to welcome the foreigner and the alien in your land. It also stands in opposition to America’s long history of being a county of immigrants where the tired and poor “huddled masses” have been welcomed and given opportunity for a new and better life. The public charge proposal seems to suggest that the only desirable immigrants are the industrious or wealthy, not the tired and poor.
As a Christian pastor to immigrants and American citizens alike, I cannot support this policy change on a professional or personal level for the practical damage it does to my immigrant neighbors and the moral assault it wages on our national identity.