August 22, 2019 at 2:26 pm PDT | by Jose Guevara
To be a public charge 

Jose Guevara-Johnson is a community organizer and a DACA recipient. He’s pictured here with his husband. (Photo courtesy Guevara-Johson)

My name is Jose Guevara-Johson. I am a migrant from El Salvador who came to the U.S. to reunite with my family at the age of 10.

At the age of 15, I discovered two things that changed my life. The first was my sexuality; the second, my diagnosis with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I have relapsed five times, but each time my family, including my husband, and my resiliency have kept me here.

Despite that, I have been an intern for the California Faculty Association, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus alumnus, where I interned in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and I’m one class away from my bachelor’s in Political Science from California State University, Los Angeles. Most importantly, I am an unapologetically undocumented husband. 

My husband is a U.S. citizen and he is sponsoring me to become a resident. He’s from a small town in North Carolina and even if he wanted to move to El Salvador, my birth country does not recognize our marriage nor will I have the ability to get my life-saving treatments. We are trying to adjust to my legal migration but we believe the Trump administration’s new public charge rules denying public assistance to lawful permanent residents are an attack on people of color, folks with disabilities, the poor, and on LGBT individuals that will further tear families apart.

Public charge rules have a dark history as a tool for racial exclusion. The rules began in 1882, five months before Chinese immigrants were barred from entering the United States. The Immigration Act was the first federal policy to bar a person likely to become a public charge, which also gave immigration officials the broad discretion to determine what “public charge” meant.

There are reports that when immigrants from Eastern Europeans countries arrived in Ellis Island they had to have $25 in cash and a ticket to their final destination. Many were Jewish and when they failed to meet the requirements, they were deported.

During the Great Depression, the law was utilized to stigmatize and deport people of color, including the mass expulsion of Mexicans, while those with European roots relied heavily on public relief.

Going through the process of adjusting my immigration status, our family must prove that our income is 125% above the poverty line. I have to do medical tests, fingerprints, a waiver for unlawful presence and travel to my country of birth for an interview—where our future will be dictated by an immigration agent even though I have already done much of this to obtain and maintain my status as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient. 

Currently, the public charge is defined by immigration services as the primary dependence likelihood of relying on cash-aid for income support or long-term care paid for by the government. They rely on multiple factors specified in the Immigration and Nationality Act, including taking into account “affidavit of supports,” a legal contract by a sponsor indicating that they will financially support the immigrant who will not become primarily dependent on the government. They also consider if an immigrant has used welfare or supplemental security income.

The use of publicly funded healthcare, nutrition, and housing programs are not currently considered negative factors. However, starting Oct.15, the administration will consider some of these when making the decision to approve individuals seeking to adjust their status.

The new public charge rules will now include the use of Medicaid, the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program and Section 8, and any state or local cash assistance programs as grounds for refuse residency. They will also assess the proficiency of speaking English as positive and the lack of it as a negative. They also added the size of family, education, skills, and age. A medical condition is a negative factor and the ability to pay private insurance a positive. An important positive factor is having a household income of at least 250% of the federal poverty level. 

All these changes target the poor, unable bodies, people of color, LGBT+, women and children. In short, anyone that belongs to the most marginalized communities is likely to be excluded.

The administration has been clear that this is an exclusion of low-income families.  Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Service, edited the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty to: “Give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” adding that the poem only referred to people “coming from Europe.”

The simple question is this: which America do you want to live in? The rule changes are not about legality—they are xenophobic. This is systematic exclusion. Do you want to wait until your friends, neighbors and family are in the place I and many others are in today? Or 10 to 20 years from now, will you be able to say you stood up against this?

Will you say: I voted this administration out; I stood on the side of humanity, dignity, and the common values that human beings are not measured on an arbitrary political scale with family members going through hell to stay together?

I can only hope that as LGTB+ folks we stand on the right side of history. 

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