In another unprecedented attempt to use its power to redefine which immigrants are welcome in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to change the definition of what it means to be a “public charge,” all in an attempt to keep less wealthy immigrants from making a home and a life for themselves by making some immigrant families choose between resources that can help them and a path to permanent residency or citizenship status.

While this has garnered far less attention than more egregious actions targeting immigrants – like separating families at the border – this is yet another way in which the administration is covertly making administrative changes at the expense of people of color and immigrants.

Right now, when determining whether someone shouldn’t be allowed to stay in the country, DHS only considers cash assistance, Social Security income and government-funded long-term institutional care as examples of dependence on the government. The mean-spirited and dangerous change they’ve proposed is to expand the list of assistance programs to include certain health care, nutrition and housing programs. Such a change would effectively make it easier for wealthy people to migrate to our country.

So many immigrants move the U.S. because they are leaving dire situations at home and are greeted here with language barriers and economic challenges as they find their own way to sustain their families. I do believe that it is in all of our best interest to ensure that we provide new arrivals the resources they are legally eligible to use, like support with paying food or rent, to ensure they are on a path toward self-reliance and success. It’s this spirit of neighborliness and generosity that truly makes communities like Portland so wonderful. This rule will have its intended impact of effectively creating a barrier for people from poorer countries.

It’s our country’s diversity that makes us strong, and it’s what brought residents like Leopold Ndayisabye to our community. Leopold left Rwanda because his life was in danger – he fled to the United States, where we offered him a refuge and an opportunity to begin a new life. When he arrived in Portland, he accessed resources from the government to help get him on his feet before going back to school and acquiring a degree in clinical mental health counseling.

Another aspect of this terrible change that has been placed on the back burner is its economic impact. According to a report released by New American Economy, if immigrants are forced to leave or go underground, the public charge rule change could have a destabilizing effect for major industries, including construction; manufacturing; natural resources and mining; hospitality, recreation and food services, and trade, transportation and utilities. Right here in Maine, immigrants had $992.3 million in spending power in 2016 while paying $363.1 million in taxes.

At the end of the day, this is a moral question for us as a country and one that we should not even have to wrestle with as Portlanders. Do we want to be a nation that welcomes only the wealthy? Does it live up to our values to all but take food from children’s mouths? Would changing this rule make us more like the countries that people are fleeing?

The answers are clear to me, and to the city of Portland. This week, we passed a resolution calling on DHS to reconsider the revised public charge rule because it will deter aspiring citizens from getting the resources they need to succeed, following so many other efforts in Maine over the years to make Portland a city that welcomes people of all colors and backgrounds.

The public comment period is open through Dec. 10 – the public still has an opportunity to let DHS know that the rule is discriminatory and would change the spirit of the welcoming nation we strive to be. I have personally submitted a comment, along with thousands of others nationally, and I would encourage fellow residents to do so as well at

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.