The history of public charge

Aug 16, 2019

The Trump administration is bringing its nostalgia for history to the immigration policy arena. This week acting director of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli held a press conference announcing the agency’s new interpretation of “public charge,” which it is using to curtail legal immigration and dissuade immigrants from accessing needed benefits. By allowing officers to assess whether immigration applicants have used or might use basic public benefits — like food stamps, housing vouchers, and Medicaid — and denying green cards if someone is deemed likely to become a “public charge” on this basis, the administration is radically redefining the term.

Immigration historians have been busy providing broader publics and reporters critical context and information about the history of the idea of public charge. Read more below:

1) In August 2018 before the rule was finalized, historians Torrie Hester, Mary E. Mendoza, Deirdre Moloney, and Mae Ngai weighed in at Made by History.

2) This week, Salonee Bhaman provides a historical overview of the public charge rule and its chilling effect on the social safety net, also at Made By History.

3) IEHS historian Hidetaka Hirota also weighed in this week at Made By History, with a piece on the state-level poor laws that were used in the 19th century to vilify poor immigrants.

4) Maddalena Marinari wrote about Cuccinelli’s historic amnesia in unveiling the rule at PRI.

5) Erika Lee was interviewed by PRI on public charge and racial exclusion.

6) Following Donna Gabaccia’s call on twitter for personal and family stories about immigrants and public charge, historian S. Deborah Kang told her father’s story.

7) Last fall, several historians filed a public comment on the then-proposed rule. Torrie Hester, Hidetaka Hirota, Mary E. Mendoza, Deirdre Moloney, Mae Ngai, Lucy Salyer, and Elliott Young joined the comment. Read it here or as a PDF here: Historians_comment_FR_2018-21106.


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