The Trump administration announced a new, far-reaching regulation that appears clear-cut on paper: prevent immigrants from obtaining visas or green cards if they are likely to receive Medicaid, food stamps, housing benefits, or other government subsidies is only half the story.
It’s much bigger than government subsidies.
The rule puts the country on a path towards a profoundly new immigration system — while Congress sits on the sideline. The change could reduce family-based immigration from “lower-income, less educated people in countries like China, Mexico, and Cuba,” according to Vox.
The impact to legal immigration would include individuals already in the country who seek to adjust to another visa or extend an existing one (including highly-skilled students). It would dramatically slow down the process of who can enter the country thanks to additional government scrutiny. It would change how the government considers additional factors including age, health, education and skills.
The rule’s immediate aim is to start scaring people now. The goal is to confuse, to convey to immigrants already here that they ought not to use public benefits. There’s already evidence that many immigrants are turning down subsidies they — and their children — rely on out of an abundance of caution.
The administration’s economic argument, cloaked in an attempt to shame those receiving social benefits in order to protect taxpayers, is highly dubious. According to an analysis by David Bier at the CATO Institute, the plan “will seriously undermine any fiscal benefits that the rule could provide.” That’s because immigrants add to the tax base, fill positions, create jobs, and help grow the economy on net. They also use benefits at lower overall rates than native-born Americans.
Which brings us back to the rationale.
Why propose such a rule? And why do it without consulting Congress? The answer is unambiguous: make it much harder and more burdensome for family-based immigrants, especially those from poorer countries. In other words: more immigration from Europe, fewer immigration from places where people often have a different skin color. This is a page out of an old playbook: according to Vox, around the turn of the 20thcentury, some 70 percent of immigrants who were rejected were done so on “public charge” grounds.
Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is reportedly proposing a regulation to accompany the “public charge” rule that will detail when legal immigrants can be deported for receiving government benefits. That means American children could watch their parents be deported as these new rules take effect. And as parents decide against receiving public assistance, more kids will be going without health care, without necessary vaccinations, and without a balanced diet. Even President TrumpDonald TrumpRobert Gates says 'extreme polarization' is the greatest threat to US democracy Cassidy says he won't vote for Trump if he runs in 2024 Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' MORE’s own Department of Homeland Security, in its own guidance, warned that taking away benefits from immigrants could lead to worse health outcomes, increased use of emergency rooms, increased prevalence of communicable diseases, and more.
It's ugly, and that’s the point.
In its efforts to cut family immigration, the administration will hurt families. Minimizing the importance of unity, strength, and values that a strong family unit offers means workers and families alike will pay a price. Social networks through family connections help newcomers source new job opportunities and increase their earning potential, as well as find housing, educational opportunities for their kids, and have reliable access to capital and healthcare. Families also help immigrants understand a new culture and a new set of norms.
Most Americans want to see a tough but fair system that ensures the U.S. can remain a nation of laws and a nation of grace — they don’t want to see a sudden and drastic change. Hurting children, and going around Congress, to fundamentally alter legal immigration isn’t going to help the U.S. compete economically or morally on the world stage.
It will, however, encourage independent voters in suburban districts nationwide to turn out in November and vote for a different path forward.