Immigration under Trump: If you can’t afford it, don’t come

Immigration under Trump: If you can’t afford it, don’t come
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The Trump administration has issued a long-overdue regulation that clarifies existing law to ensure that immigrants pull their own weight — and stay off welfare. 

The move is both sensible and should be applauded. Yet, before they even saw the text of the proposed regulation, it was attacked by open borders advocates opposed to any and all efforts to regulate immigration. 

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Their objections fly in the face of centuries of American law and longstanding traditions about what we should be able to expect from those given the privilege to immigrate to the U.S.

The first references to public charge laws appeared in colonial Massachusetts (based on English statutory precedents). And the very first comprehensive federal immigration law — enacted in 1882 — included a bar against the admission of “any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” In fact, for well over a century, admissibility determinations were primarily based on an alien’s prospective ability to earn a living in the United StatesIn 1952, the Immigration and Nationality Act, which governs all matters pertaining to legal immigration, reinforced this concept.

In 1996, during sweeping reforms to both welfare and immigration, Congress restated the expectation that immigrants arrive in the United States financially self-sufficient. In that legislation, Congress expressed its clear desire that recently arrived aliens should not be dependent on taxpayer assistance, except in the most dire emergencies. Indeed, Congress felt so strongly about this principle of self-sufficiency that it even referred to “a compelling government interest to enact new rules for eligibility and sponsorship agreements in order to assure that aliens be self-reliant in accordance with national immigration policy.” 

For years, opponents of the idea that immigrants should be self-sufficient argued that only a handful of immigrants utilize public assistance programs, in circumstances that are rare, temporary, or insignificant.

But that is simply not true.

Despite long-standing requirements to ensure that immigrants do not become dependent on public aid, they are in fact accessing that aid in large numbers. In today’s information-based economy, many immigrants possess skill-sets suited only to low-wage, low-skill industrial and agricultural jobs. As a result, many are dependent on taxpayer-funded welfare programs from the moment they arrive in the United States, even if they find employment.

According to a report released by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), over half of all immigrant-led households currently use at least one welfare program. This is compared to only 30 percent of native households. The same CIS report shows that 48 percent of households headed by immigrants who have been in the country for more than two decades continue to access at least one welfare program. And, according to data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation, by 2030, 7.5 million immigrants will be enrolled in Medicaid — placing a major strain on an already ailing program. 

Justifiably, the Trump administration has now promised to restore integrity to the public charge grounds of admissibility and deportability. It also plans to make aliens’ use of public benefits programs a consideration during the naturalization process. The administration’s proposed new rule correctly interprets key provisions of U.S. immigration law to ensure immigrants who might become a drain on the Treasury are barred from admission to the United States, and those who come here and immediately become a public charge are deemed ineligible for a green card or citizenship.

The latter part of the proposed rule relating to citizenship might be new, but the idea behind it, that immigrants should be expected to rely on themselves and their financial sponsors, is well-established.

The Trump administration’s efforts to reduce the burden imposed on taxpayers by unchecked mass migration is common sense. Failure to implement the proposed changes will impose continued and crushing burdens on American taxpayers and endanger our social safety net.

At a time when the American welfare system is already overburdened and over-extended, this administration’s proposed public charge rules remain firmly in line with how modern nations maintain fiscal sanity. It’s time to take heed and make immigration work for America once again.

Dan Stein is president at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).