One of my personal holiday traditions is to listen to Patrick Stewart’s reading of a Christmas Carol. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that in the beginning of the tale two gentlemen come to Scrooge’s office asking for donations for the poor. The exchange goes as follows:
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”
“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.
And with that final pronouncement, Scrooge dismisses the men from his office without so much as a pence.
Not even Charles Dickens could have imagined such a stingy character as Donald Trump, especially when it comes to immigration policy. Apparently separated families, children in cages, tent cities, and identification numbers inscribed on people’s arms with Sharpies are not enough for him. A persistent and loud refrain of this administration is that they’re not anti-immigration; they simply want people to come into the country legally. Never mind the fact that the so-called “caravan” is doing just that in seeking asylum at the border. But hey, what’s a little nuisance like international law when you’re trying to impose your authoritarian, racist agenda on the country? Even Scrooge wasn’t mean enough to begrudge the needy what meager “relief” was available to them in the 19th century, such as workhouses and alms houses. But our government is now planning to means test individuals who have entered legally and are current green card holders.
The Trump administration puts a lot of stock into fear. Mexicans are rapists, the caravan is full of MS13 members, rocks are akin to rifles, etc. This tired rhetoric is intended to both terrorize already scared and put upon immigrants into keeping far from our borders and to stoke fear in the American public to further perpetuate the president’s agenda. Now the administration is targeting green card holders. Recent reports say the administration is proposing to expand the number of benefits that immigration officers take into account when deciding on granting permanent residence status to green card holders. If such an individual is determined to be a “public charge” they may be denied residence. A “public charge” being defined as someone who depends excessively on government benefits to survive. Those benefits include Non-Emergency Medicaid, SNAP (Food Stamps), Section 8 Housing, and Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidies, all programs, by the way, that green card holders are permitted to use under current law.
Sadly Trump’s fear campaign seems to be working. As Zaidee Stavely of PRI’s The World reported last week:
“Administrators at community clinics, school-based health centers and agencies serving children say some parents in California are already choosing not to enroll or withdrawing their children from health and nutrition programs.
A parent asked First 5 Alameda, an agency that supports families with small children, to stop seeking early intervention services from a local school district for their toddler with autism. A teenage mother in the Central Valley asked to withdraw from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) one month before giving birth. A grandmother in San Francisco asked North East Medical Services, a federally funded community clinic, to purge her grandchildren’s medical records.”
Mayra Alvarez, president of The Children’s Partnership, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization noted, “It’s causing fear, it’s causing confusion and it’s really impacting kids.”
DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s defense of the proposed policy is that the department is merely following established law in wanting to “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.” But just like the family separation policy, the current proposal regarding green card holders is ill-conceived and half-baked. What DHS and the Trump administration is missing in their myopic view is the harm done to children and families when they avoid accessing programs legally available to them. The government in purportedly trying to solve the “public charge” problem is actually creating it. Denying assistance to green card holders will only increase poverty, homelessness, and illness, thus creating a true crisis where one needn’t exist.
Near the end of A Christmas Carol, as you may recall, the Ghost of Christmas Present reveals two wretched children hiding beneath his robes, a boy and a girl, whom the spirit says are “Ignorance” and “Want”. The ghost then says to Scrooge:
“Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
You know the rest of the story. Would it be asking too much for this one to have a similar resolution?
posted by Amy Levengood
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