For Beth Low-Smith, “public charge” rule is personal

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The Department of Homeland Security has proposed changing how they will decide whether a visa or green card applicant is likely to rely on government assistance. Under the proposed rule, only immigrants with substantial incomes or resources would qualify for a new visa or green card.

The proposed changes would dramatically increase hunger and food insecurity among immigrant families. It would force immigrant families—including those with U.S. citizen children—to choose between permanent legal status and their ability to access basic needs like healthy food, safe housing and health care.At a recent luncheon of the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, Beth Low-Smith shared a very personal story to illustrate how this change would have a major impact on food and families today:

This matters to me. This is personal.

My grandfather, Klaas Besselsen, was born in the Netherlands. Everyone called him Dutch. He came to the U.S. with his parents in 1926.

His dad, Gysbert, began coming to the USA years before, working as a migrant farm worker in the upper midwest and sending money home to take care of his family. Gysbert was poor, had little education and even less grasp of English, but he was a hard worker and he wanted more for his kids someday.

My great-grandparents eventually saved enough to move here, and settled in South Dakota, where they worked hard and raised a growing family.

At 17 my grandpa became a naturalized citizen so he could volunteer for the Naval Air Corps. All of his younger siblings were born here. His family was still poor.

The GI Bill helped him become an engineer and he eventually worked at NASA. He cried every time he sang the national anthem.

None of that would have been possible under the proposed public charge rule. I would not exist. My great- grandparents would have been too poor to have qualified for a visa.

Due to Rh incompatibility, four of my great-grandparents’ ten children died within months of birth. Even if they’d somehow gotten visas, it’s likely they would have accepted medicaid, had it been available. That would have disqualified them from becoming green card holders, let alone naturalized citizens. My grandpa wouldn’t have been able to naturalize and volunteer for World War II. He never would have met his future wife at a USO dance while stationed far from home, in a hot, flat land of pine trees and clay. My mother wouldn’t have been born, nor would I.

So frankly, I’m furious about this proposal. It attacks my existence, my American dream and maybe yours too.

I’m mad for every migrant farm worker, then and now who has done back breaking, dangerous labor for meager wages so that their family has a shot at something better, yet found they had to send their kids to school hungry.

I’m indignant for every immigrant who’s worked til their fingers bled, as my great-grandma’s did when she made carpets out of old coats, yet has been unable to afford basic medical care and has prayed they won’t lose their job or be unable to work because of their health.

What was true a century ago is still true today.

Immigrant labor is critical to many farms and ranches, food processors and restaurants. It’s crucial to construction and factories. These jobs are low wage. They are attractive only to workers with few resources but a surplus of determination.

Many farms are already struggling with worker shortages. Their crops rot in the field. How will anyone willing to do farm work pass the resources tests to secure an H2A visa? The farm worker shortage will worsen.

Visa holders who are already here will be forced to choose between feeding their families and the American dream; those who hope to someday become green card holders will decline assistance. Without housing & food assistance many of these low wage workers will be unable to make ends meet.

Their poverty will deepen. The children of these immigrants will go to school hungry, come home to unsafe housing and go without health care. Just like my grandpa’s younger siblings, most children of immigrants are themselves citizens. The educational and health outcomes of these kids will be our salvation or our burden for decades to come.

In fact, this is already happening. Public health officials and non profits who work with vulnerable populations report that fear of the proposed changes has already reduced participation in SNAP and WIC, leading to more people relying on food pantries that were already unable to meet demand. Similar problems face non profits who focus on housing & health.

All of these consequences for education, food security, health and worker productivity ultimately impact the economy. That means they impact all of us.

We can win this. But it will be up to us.

I’m submitting comment on behalf of people who, like my great-grandparents, have more grit than resources, and for the kids they’re raising to dream big American dreams.

We’re asking you to speak up and share your own story about why the proposed change is bad and must be withdrawn. It may be very different from Beth’s, but it’s every bit as important for decision makers to hear from you.

You can speak up by submitting public comment by Dec 10. It’s basically like writing a letter. Federal law requires that government officials must review all unique (not template-generated) comments submitted before making a decision on a proposed rule change. Proposals can be withdrawn, modified or delayed and frequently are. This is not a lost cause.

Please submit your unique comment today to tell the Department of Homeland Security how this rule would spike hunger in our nation and that it should be withdrawn. Send Your Unique Comment 

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