President Trump announced last week a plan for tighter restrictions on entrance into the United States that could cost millions of immigrants their government aid programs which were essential for acquiring citizenship. Trump plans to broaden the background checks on potential citizens, factoring in their use of Medicare, food and housing vouchers and other assistance programs. By restricting immigration to those who use the least government aid, he hopes to cut down on what he claims is an unfair drain on the American government and, by extension, American taxpayers. This would apply to around 380,000 people annually and not only affect those applying for green cards, but also anyone seeking initial entry into the country or applying to extend their stay. While the plan is most likely to affect those who have not gained permanent residence, a portion of those who already have green cards could face deportation if ruled to be too reliant on government services—especially if they try to leave and re-enter the United States.
Pushed by the Department of Homeland Security, the plan has been received negatively by immigration advocates and economists who question both the ethicality and efficacy of denying immigration on the basis of how much individuals use legal aid programs. Critics also call into question Trump’s motives, accusing the announcement of this plan only a few weeks before November midterms as an attempt to pit GOP voters against immigrants of color to get more consistent poll results. The detailed, 447 page proposal, if passed after a 60 day comment period, would be consistent with the Trump administration’s hardline approach to immigration.
Proponents for the new plan argue that advocates for immigration are ignoring the large, immediate cost of hosting poorer individuals from other countries and that there is no way to simultaneously argue that immigrants need government assistance and that immigrants are an economic benefit to the United States.
“Public charge” laws which allow for deportation on the grounds of an individual’s long-term reliance on government programs date back far in America’s history. For years, the financial status of applicants and immigrants has been considered, but this new extension that punishes immigrants for accepting legal and encouraged assistance is a stipulation that many are calling cruel and unnecessary. If passed, the legislation would likely cause many immigrants to forgo aid programs they need to survive in hope of being better candidates for citizenship. Democratic senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii tweeted this past week, “Earlier this year, #AAPI advocates told me that in fear of a public charge rule, immigrants were withdrawing domestic violence cases and going without necessary health care. This is another outrageous effort in the Trump administration’s all-out assault against immigrants.” Hirono is not alone in her anger, as politicians and advocates from all around the nation—especially in sanctuary cities like Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia—decry what they see is a direct attack on disadvantaged immigrants.
In an open letter to the Trump administration from April of last year, economists from across the political spectrum attested that immigration has consistently long-term economic benefits, heavily outweighing the initial cost that their presence has in the United States. Citing the variety of skills and young, able workers that immigration brings to the country, the 1,470 economists that signed the letter urged Congress to encourage productive immigration, contrasting Trump’s approach thus far of limiting immigration to as small of a trickle as possible.
“Immigration undoubtedly has economic costs as well,” they conceded, “particularly for Americans in certain industries and Americans with lower levels of educational attainment. But the benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs.”
Many suspect Stephen Miller, Senior Advisor to Donald Trump and architect of the 2017 Travel Ban, of having a large part in this new development in immigration restriction. Miller, while technically a general policy advisor for President Trump, has spent most of his time in the White House focusing on advancing the administration’s anti-immigration doctrine. Miller has been accused in the past (most notably in a 2017 article by the New York Times) of suppressing information on the cost benefits of accepting immigrants in order to push an anti-immigration narrative, which could play into what many see as an inconsistency in this new plan.
While our small community in West Chester feels far from the issue, it is important to keep in mind whether legislation passed by our government will be effective in its goals and who will be disadvantaged by these laws. Those directly affected could be closer than you think, and the outcome of immigration law applies to all of us—whether on a personal or economic level.
Brendan Lordan is a second-year student majoring in English writing. BL895080@wcupa.edu.