By Rev. Norman Fong

April 16, 2018

The Trump administration is considering changing the rules regarding the use of public safety net programs to hurt immigrants. This is a major policy shift that could curtail legal immigration. Enrolling in Medicaid, or public assistance programs might be considered a negative for those applying for citizenship or legal permanent residency in the USA. The idea behind this is an old one related to the idea that immigrants come to the US just to use public assistance. For those immigrating to the US, this thinking has been used by immigration officials in the past. It even happened to me!

Back in the late 1970’s, when I got married in Hong Kong, I went into the American Consulate in Hong Kong to get interviewed as I applied to bring my wife over to San Francisco. I thought it would be an easy process since I was born in San Francisco and I assumed it would be a simple interview and no need for documentation except our wedding license.

rally for inclusion

I was totally surprised when the American Consulate Person asked me: “How are you going to support your wife in America? We don’t allow people to come to the USA if they are likely to become a “Public Charge”… I couldn’t believe it! The guy was so mean! I said, although I’m just just a seminary student (with no savings or a house), I was going to work in San Francisco at Donaldina Cameron House. To make the story short, I had to get Cameron House to become a sponsor for my wife and had letters from political leaders to vouch for me. I remember feeling so upset that the American Consulate could be so prejudiced. (At the time, Hong Kong only had very limited visas as a colony of Britain). Later on, when we had our first child, my wife’s sister could not even visit with us as the American Consulate denied her a visa (worried that she did not have enough collateral in Hong Kong to guarantee that she would return to Hong Kong).

Immigration “policies” change from time to time. Sometimes, America welcomes some groups and targets other groups. Always remember the Chinese Exclusion Act from 1882 to World War II. It wasn’t till 1965 that the racist Immigration “Quotas Act” changed and slowly, more immigrants could come to the USA. Today, we are all worried about changes in attitude & treatment of immigrants again for not just DACA but even legal immigrants. This new Trump administration is worst on not just people of color, but all immigrants. The practical question is: Do foreign-born people use public benefits more than native-born population? (That’s the prejudice or stereotype). The government’s own research shows they don’t.

stop picking on immigrants


All of us in the Bay Area from the NICOS Chinese Health Coalition to Asian Health Services & nationally, the Asian Health Forum, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations to AAPCHO are watching the White House budget office where sources say the proposed changes are likely headed for consideration. If there is a change in rules, get ready to write letters of protest to all civic leaders. I’m afraid America hasn’t learned from its past. I wish this country would stop picking on immigrants. More importantly, we as an immigrant community must “Speak Out” as history shows us. The Chinese Community in the San Francisco Bay Area filed thousands of law suits against the racist Chinese Exclusion Act… We need to continue speaking out for equality & fair treatment of all who live here. As America celebrates the almost 150 Anniversary of the building of the transcontinental railroad on May 10th, remember the Chinese who helped build it but were excluded from being in the pictures back then. We are indeed as President John F Kennedy said: “A Nation of Immigrants”.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on April 15, 2018

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