How Media Avoid the “Big Story” Behind Public Charge Rule Change
The Houston Chronicle recently reported about immigrants’ use of public-welfare programs:
A local community health and social service ministry that serves legal and illegal immigrants says applications for government-funded health care programs for children are down 23 percent from year ago. Renewals for Children’s Medicaid, the federal health insurance for the poor, are off 28 percent. Renewals for food stamps have fallen by one-third.
Meantime, the county-run Harris Health System reported a 6.3 percent drop in outpatient visits among legal immigrants.
The implied (though unproven) trigger for these declines is a Trump administration proposal to strengthen the nation’s “public charge” law. Enrollment in one or more public benefits in a three-year period would be considered a “heavily weighted negative factor” on an immigrant’s application for legal residency.
The Chronicle article frames the reform as draconian, bordering on xenophobic. The writer employs “fear,” “scared” or “worried” 11 times in the course of her narrative to hammer home her tale of immigrant victimhood. Freighted with emotion, her story makes no mention of America’s booming economy, which should reduce reliance on public services. Nor does the Chronicle have anything to say about the actual costs of the programs under discussion.
Instead, the reporter settles for cheap anecdotes and political cant. A “left-leaning advocacy and research group” is trotted out to unhelpfully inform readers: “The biggest story here is the campaign of fear.”
Actually, like just about every other mainstream media outlet, the Chronicle completely misses “the biggest story”: Namely, that the administration’s proposed changes to the public charge definition has laid bare the failure of our immigration policies for all to see. The big question, which most refuse to ask, much less answer, is why are we perpetuating a failed family chain migration policy that continues to admit large numbers of people who, predictably, will require substantial government assistance to meet their basic needs?
The Chronicle’s approach is not unique. In an earlier speculative effort, The New York Times wept that public-charge reform “could hurt a million New Yorkers.” Again, no reportage about the ongoing expense borne by taxpayers; no journalistic investigation into ways these programs are gamed.
Deep into the Chronicle piece is dropped a single comment from FAIR’s Ira Mehlman, who suggests that the fearful scenarios are overwrought. “It is perfectly logical to say if you are coming here and are likely to become a public charge, we should probably say, ‘No,’” he said.
In 1999, the Justice Department loosened long-standing public-charge rules to allow immigrants to receive “non-cash or special-purpose cash benefits” with few or no restrictions. A partial list includes Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), housing benefits, childcare services, energy assistance, foster care and adoption aid, and a host of feeding programs. Means-tested welfare for U.S.-born dependents was also allowed, with immigrants shielded from deportation.
“Thus, an immigrant may be paying no income taxes while receiving untold financial benefits,” FAIR noted last year.
Though there is no current accounting of the public dollars expended, the Center for Immigration Studies estimated 52 percent of households headed by legal immigrants with children were on at least one welfare program in 2009, compared with 39 percent for native households with children.
George Rodriguez, a conservative commentator who grew up in the border town of Laredo, says the mainstream media routinely ignore this central issue in the immigration debate.
“With high federal and state debts, Texas and the U.S. cannot afford to spend money on immigrants who cannot be self-sufficient. Immigration should be legal, controlled and with self-sufficient people,” Rodriguez says.