Are the non-white, working poor still welcome in America?

Are the non-white, working poor still welcome in America?
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The president and his allies haven’t been shy in their determination to demonize immigrants seeking the most American of dreams: to attain opportunity and a better life.

The fear-mongering rhetoric we saw was strategically employed ahead of the election against a group of asylum seekers from Central America. This is part of a larger effort to use the literal bully pulpit and the formal might of the executive branch to tell a certain kind of people, "you don’t deserve to be in the U.S."

To codify that discrimination, the administration wants to introduce a more expansive "public charge" rule that would essentially establish the wealth-based immigration system the president desires. Under the proposal announced by the Department of Homeland Security, the government would give itself leeway to count an immigrant’s use (or anticipated use) of public benefits that support housing, nutrition or health care against their application for permanent status (green card).

And that’s not all. Being older than 61 or younger than 18 would also be black marks on an immigrant’s application, as would having a low credit score, a medical condition that could interfere with school or work and other things that generally accompany living a less than easy life.

This proposal seems calculated to shut out many of the people who come from all around the world to seek opportunity in America, like those who built this country over the centuries through ingenuity, hard work and perseverance. The data proves it: Nearly 94 percent of people who’ve come to the United States seeking permanent status fall into one of those negative buckets. Millions of people already living in America do.

Other than embodying social factors many of us can identify with, immigrants also do the jobs we depend on — like providing caregiving for the elderly and working in the service or agriculture industries — but often earn low-wages and have patchwork or no health-care coverage.

Like many working poor citizens, these workers turn to Medicaid for the health coverage that keeps them employable and productive and provides reimbursement to the doctors and hospitals that serve them. But under the "public charge" proposal, immigrants without private insurance and those who access subsidized health care would find their green card applications in jeopardy. The message is clearly that working people experiencing low wages or outright poverty are not welcome in the United States.

If there’s any question that this is a short-sighted policy grounded in the perceived political advantage of xenophobia rather than in budget or policy concerns, just look to the DHS’ own admission that the proposed rule could lead to “worse health outcomes,” “increased use of emergency rooms,” “increased prevalence of communicable diseases,” and “increased rates of poverty.”

Then why do it? Perhaps the answer lies in another piece of the proposal, which is an echo of the president’s disparagement of immigrants from Haiti and African nations as being from "[expletive] countries." Under the new rule, evidence of income that is 250 percent of the federal poverty level or higher would be a positive in an immigrant’s application for permanent status.

According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, immigrants from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, who largely gain status through family sponsorship, would be disproportionately hard-pressed to meet that income threshold, which amounts to over $70,000 for a family of five. But what such a rubric would do is tip the scale in favor of immigrants from majority-white, comparatively more affluent countries like Canada and those in Western Europe.

The president and his team have made clear their desire to dismantle the structures of family reunification on which U.S. immigration policy has long been based (and on which President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE’s own family has relied). With these plans to further restrict who — regardless of status — gets to call America home, the administration reveals an antipathy for the kind of people many of us can recognize in our own family trees and in anyone who’s ever had to struggle to make ends meet.

Most Americans weren’t born on third base, and we understand that where someone starts off in life shouldn’t determine the opportunities they are given as they try to advance. We must push back against this cruel "public charge" policy, which represents an attack on some of our most deeply held values. We must not tacitly support the message that one must be white and relatively privileged to be worthy of living in America.

John Bouman is the president of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.