President The Mercury News

Donald Trump has spent his time in the White House systematically undermining many of the principles and values we hold most dear. Now he wants to use his new “public charge” rule to gut the treasured principle the Statue of Liberty symbolizes: America as a nation that embodies hope and opportunity for those seeking a better life.

This must not stand.

Ken Cuccinelli, the president’s acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, made Trump’s position abundantly clear Monday.

“Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge,” Cuccinelli said, butchering Emma Lazaras’ famous poem that stands at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The final version of the public charge rule was announced Monday and will go into effect in October. It denies entry or permanent legal status for immigrants who receive one or more public benefits, including, for example, food stamps, subsidized housing and Medicaid.

Let’s be clear. This isn’t an attack on illegal immigration. It’s targeting the hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants applying to become permanent residents, following in the footsteps of the millions who immigrated to the United States since its founding.

The Trump administration sees them as undesirables, an appalling position in direct opposition to long-standing American core values. The United States and the Statue of Liberty are universal symbols of freedom, representing a belief that this is a country that embraces families who want to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, enriching America culturally in the process.

But they don’t come to this country wealthy. We can’t expect people — immigrants or American citizens — who come from poverty to be able to financially lift themselves to sustainable levels without an assist. We shouldn’t be turning immigrants away just because they can’t also import significant assets.

This should be about more than money. In California, for example, rapid integration of immigrants has bolstered the economy and diversified the culture in innumerable ways that make the state a much more vibrant place to live.

The public charge rule not only slows that advancement, but also creates the potential for a public health nightmare.

Since the idea was first proposed by the Trump administration, thousands of immigrants who fear losing citizenship eligibility have been dropping out of programs they need to ensure the well-being of their families and those living in their communities. A December survey by the Urban Institute found that nearly 14% of immigrants avoided public benefits programs because they feared hurting their future legal status.

The public charge will inevitably lead to children going to school on an empty stomach, which hurts their ability to be successful students. It will lead to higher numbers of medically uninsured families, meaning they won’t receive primary and preventive care they need, including important vaccinations. The California Hospital Association is already warning that the public charge will lead to more crowded emergency rooms, bad debt for hospitals and costly care for chronic diseases that routine checkups could have avoided.

Californians and the nation should rally behind legislation introduced by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, that would block implementation of the public charge rule. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra has also promised to challenge the rule in court.

We must not allow the Trump administration to further damage this country’s image as a beacon of hope.

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