Monday morning brought further ominous development in the continuing efforts by the Trump Administration to stem the flow of immigration to the United States from predominantly poorer nations.
Politico reported on 12th August that President Trump issued a new final rule that would allow federal officials to deny green cards or renewals of green cards to immigrants who have used government welfare services, such as food stamps, Medicaid, welfare, and housing assistance, or who are ruled to be likely to need those services in the near future. According to White House Advisor Stephen Miller, a hardline supporter of the rule, non-citizens using such services constitute a “public charge,” that is a drain on the nation’s funds, which should not be taken by non-citizens.
Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli was quoted by Politico as stating that the measures have been instituted because the administration “wants to see people coming into this country who are self-sufficient.” While advocates of fiscal conservatism and overall reduction of the welfare state, such as the Republican Study Committee, a group that includes roughly three fourths of Republican congressmen, see this law as “a step in the right direction,” others see this law as an attack on poor immigrants, and particularly immigrants of color from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. In particular, Marielena Hincapié, director of the National Immigration Law Center, was quoted by CNBC as saying that “this news is a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them, instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: you are not welcome here.” She further announced her organization intended to sue the Trump Administration over the policy, which would be intended to delay its rollout. Additionally, Leticia James, Attorney General of New York, called Trump’s rule “un-American,” and also stated her office’s intention to sue the Administration.
Trump’s new final rule on the matter of resident aliens receiving federal monetary aid programs is consistent with the President’s attitude toward immigration during his presidential campaign and administration. Trump has long attacked immigration from poorer nations, such as those in Latin America, stating that immigrants from this region were predominantly criminals. Later on, during his administration, President Trump issued Executive Order 13769, barring any entry to the United States to people from a group of mainly Muslim countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Taking this into account, Trump’s move toward barring resident aliens on welfare programs from renewing their green cards appears to be part of a wider strategy aimed at reducing the number of “undesirable” persons entering and living within the country and allegedly dragging the country down under their unnecessary burdens. In passing this directive, the President is disregarding the positive impacts that many of these immigrants, be they from Muslim or Latin American nations, have on their communities, or the fact that a criminal survey conducted by the Cato Institute—a conservative think tank—found that immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born American citizens.
The denial of citizenship to those who could be perceived as a “burden on society” is nothing new. According to CBS, the term “public charge” was first codified in 1882, the same year that the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. “Protecting the good order of certain localities,” was given as a reason to bar both Chinese immigrants and “public charges” from attaining citizenship, as both were considered to be burdens on society. The banning of “public charges” from citizenship was further codified in 1952, stating that “public charges” were liable to deportation or denial of entry into the country. However, in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton issued a directive to immigration officers, stating that only cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, were to be considered when determining if a prospective citizen would be considered a public charge. However, CBS reports that Trump’s directive promises to expand the definition much further, stating that immigrants who fall below certain income thresholds and have a limited working proficiency with English, as well as those who use government housing and have serious medical conditions could also be considered public charges.
Trump’s decision is weighing heavily on immigrant families, with NBC News reporting that some families are now afraid to seek medical help for fear of being deported, potentially putting many lives in jeopardy. There is no doubt that the President’s order weakens America’s longstanding image as a country of freedom and opportunity. But it remains to be seen whether this new rule will go into effect, given the severe and immediate backlash and proposed lawsuits against it.