The Weekly Round-Up

The Weekly Round-Up

Posted on in Refugees.

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Welcome to The Briefing newsletter by Jason Clarke and Mitchell Dorris. Mitchell is the Faith and Politics writer for SEEK and will be weighing in on the latest issues relating to refugees and immigration as it relates to the intersection of national policy and faith. This week we will look at a new proposed rule that the Department of Homeland Security has put forward that would impact immigrants seeking citizenship in the United States. The so-called “public charge” rule has been applied in a broad context dating back to the founding of the country. Secondly, we will talk about the Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2017 that became law last week. We will look at what the bill does and how it will help those fleeing the terrible conditions of these countries.

Public Charge

Over the past few weeks, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has been open to public comments regarding their proposed rule change to a policy dubbed “public charge.” According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) a “public charge” is an individual who is likely to become primarily dependent on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense. What is considered in making the determination that someone is a “public charge?” In determining whether someone meets the definition above a number of factors are considered. Those factors are age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status, education, and skills. The USCIS claims that “no single factor, other than the lack of an affidavit of support if required, will determine whether an individual is a public charge.”

This has been and currently is the law that immigration officials abide by. The proposed DHS rule claims “public charge has not been defined in statute or regulations, and there has been insufficient guidance on how to determine if an alien who is applying for a visa, admission, or adjustment of status is likely at any time to become a public charge.” In simple terms, the Trump administration and DHS are saying that while the“public charge” rule has been around for a while, it has not been narrowly defined. It has been broadly defined and because of this, it has been difficult to enforce. In fact, speaking of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., the proposed rule says they should “rely on their capabilities and the resources of their families, their sponsors, and private organizations.” The main change of this proposal would be the standard of which the “public charge” rule is applied. Other changes DHS has proposed would make undocumented immigrants “who receive or are likely to receive designated public benefits above the designated threshold generally eligible for a change of status and extension of stay” ineligible to do so.

While this rule impacts many immigrants and undocumented immigrants, there are some groups of people that are exempt from these rules. According to USCIS, “refugees, asylees, Afghan and Iraqis with special immigrant visas” would not be affected. In addition, DHS is proposing “not to consider in the context of a public charge determination, receipt of public benefits by alien members of the U.S. armed forces or children or children of such service members.

This raises the question of what will give someone a higher chance of being given admission into the U.S. rather than an unfavorable one. This is where many oppose. The objection comes from a determining factor that would bar someone who is “diagnosed with a medical condition that will require extensive medical treatment or institutionalization or that will interfere with their ability to provide for themselves, attend school, work, uninsured and has no prospect of obtaining private health insurance.” This has seen numerous objections from all around the country. It is because of this that some immigrants and undocumented immigrants refuse to seek the healthcare they need to survive.

A perfect example of this was brought up by the Mayor of Dallas, Texas in his comments to DHS on the proposed rule. Mayor Mike Rawlings noted children “could be chilled from accessing health care, nutrition, housing assistance, and other supports that make families and our city as a whole healthier and stronger.” These people are scared to seek medical assistance because they might be deemed a public charge if they do so. Other organizations and advocates in Dallas have noted that this rule would create a problem in the city because immigrants would pull out of the Children’s Health Insurance Program over the fear of being deemed a “public charge.”

Public outcry about this proposed change has been massive. DHS has seen over 190,000 public comments according to the Dallas Morning News. Surprisingly, there has been a backlash from conservatives. While the objections are different, there are still objections. In an article published on the Weekly Standard, David Bier and Alex Nowrasteh make the point that this rule would bar some immigrants “from entry if a bureaucrat predicts that they might use some welfare.” The two men, immigration policy analysts with the Cato Institute, show how the law makes immigrants eligible for some forms of welfare. This means that legal immigrants will always have the potential to use welfare in some capacity, even if they never would use it. This is a problem the proposed rule change does not address.

Bier and Nowrasteh instead endorse a bill introduced by Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) that would allow for legal immigrants to continue to live and work in the U.S. as they do now. They claim the only difference “is that they will be totally barred from all welfare benefits and welfare programs.” From here they go after the proposed rule change saying, “rather than building a virtual wall around the country to keep out legal immigrants – like the public charge rule would do – Grothman’s bill rebuilds a virtual wall around the welfare state.”

The “welfare state” is a phrase that is often thrown around by immigration hardliners and far right advocates. It is an idea that there are too many people who are relying on the government for money and other essentials. Immigrants are normally used as the fall guy in this situation. It is normally forgotten that people can actually use welfare in the right way. Not everyone that needs welfare is a lazy person content with living off of the government. Those do exist, but too often that is the stereotype given to every welfare recipient. This can be seen in the bill introduced by Rep. Grothman. Jeff Jacoby from the Boston Globe said, “only by becoming a naturalized citizen could any immigrant collect a dime of welfare.” Even further, Bier and Nowrasteh both say that if an immigrant “fell on hard times and could no longer support themselves, they would need to rely on family, friends, private charities, or return to their home countries.” This does not promote human flourishing, which all laws should. This also is a lot easier said than done. Most immigrants coming here do not have an extensive network of other people who could financially help them if times get hard. The Grothman bill overlooks this aspect.

Iraq and Syria Genocide Relief and Accountability Act of 2017

In a rare act of bipartisanship, President Trump signed into law the Iraq and Syria Genocide Act of 2017 (H.R. 390). The bill saw no vote of opposition in either house of Congress. The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sent a delegation to Iraq in March and “witnessed firsthand the immense suffering of Yazidis, Christians, and other religious minorities and listened to their stories of egregious violations of their fundamental rights.” According to the office of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), 60,000 Yazidis have departed for Europe and 280,000 are still displaced. He also said professing Christians in Iraq has declined by 300,000 since 2013. Back in 2016 then Secretary of State John Kerry and Congress both acted to classify ISIS’ actions as genocide.

This bill will allow for U.S. government agencies and faith-based groups to help groups that are investing and prosecuting ISIS’ despicable acts. According to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission the bill would “identify persecution threats and early warnings of genocide and crimes against humanity directed toward individuals in Iraq and Syria and religious and ethnic minorities at risk of forced migration, provide funding to faith-based and other organizations for the humanitarian needs of genocide survivors, and urge other governments to prosecute perpetrators of “genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.”

In response to the passing of the bill Rep. Smith said, “The future of endangered religious and ethnic minorities targeted by ISIS for genocide, and pluralism in the Middle East, will depend on help from the United States.” This was followed by President Trump saying, “In recent years, ISIS has committed horrifying atrocities against religious and ethnic minorities in Syria and Iraq, including Christians, Yazidis, Shia, and other groups.” The passage of this bill is a great move by Congress and the President. It will help many helpless people across the world.