The latest Trump scheme to suppress immigration is to give immigrants a Sophie’s choice—two equally onerous options: either forgo all government benefits or forgo the option of becoming a citizen.
Immigrants must meet many qualifications before they can obtain permanent residency and citizenship. Part of the process is the requirement to undergo what is called the “public charge assessment,” which evaluates, on a case-by-case basis, whether an individual applying for permanent residence is likely to become dependent on the government for public assistance. If an applicant is categorized as a potential “public charge,” immigration services can reject their green card application. The “public charge assessment” has been part of federal immigration law for decades, but up to now has always been narrowly defined. The proposed rule, however, would make the assessment consider many more federal programs than in the past, including, for the first time, health and nutrition programs.
Critics rightly point out that this proposed new regulation will discourage poor people, including virtually all refugees, from crossing the border, and encourage many to return to their country of origin. Critics assume that the regulation won’t affect the wealthy, who don’t need benefits. But that ends up being a miniscule number of immigrants, as most people in all countries are poor or middle class. Much of the middle class in the United States has to take government benefits like subsidized healthcare, disaster relief or unemployment compensation from time to time, so we can imagine that many if not most immigrants will fear having the same experience and therefore face the dilemma of deciding between the security of citizenship or the pressing needs of food, shelter, healthcare, education and disaster relief.
The new regulation will thus negatively affect virtually all immigrants from all countries. To view it as another example of the rich getting special treatment while the poor suffer is to miss the broader problem: that it will lead to far fewer immigrants, which will be disastrous to the American economy. We are already facing labor shortages, which are expected to grow as more baby boomers retire. Caregiving, agricultural, hospitality and construction are just a few of the industries already crying out for new employees.
A heap of current research proves that immigrants—legal and illegal—increase the rate of employment of native-born Americans and also increase the average wages of the native-born. Immigrants also pose less of a crime threat than native-born Americans, since both legal and illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes overall and fewer violent crimes.
In other words, if we stem the flow of immigrants, as the Trump administration intends to do, we shrink the economy and the average wage while increasing the crime rate.
There is still something we can do to prevent this awful new regulation from taking effect. We are in the middle of the comment period on the regulation, a time when anyone—corporations, think tanks and individuals—can publicly comment. By law, the administration must take those comments into account when creating the final rules.
The easiest way to comment is to follow the instructions on a special web page set up by the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), the lobbying arm of the Quakers. Now FCNL is framing the issue primarily as one of rich and poor, and they are absolutely right that the rich will end up having a much easier time to citizenship under this nasty reg. But don’t let that cloud the main point. This regulation will lead to far fewer immigrants at all economic levels, from all countries, which goes against the best interests of every American.
You can also go to a special web page that the pro-immigration nonprofit organization, the Protecting Immigrant Families Campaign, for an easy way to make your comment on the regulation.
The deadline to make comments is October 21, so don’t tarry. Link to FCNL or Protecting Immigrant Families today, follow the instructions, and tell the Trump administration you oppose the reg.