White House sets new hurdles for legal immigrants
The Trump administration moved aggressively this week to cut legal immigration with a new rule making it harder for immigrants already here lawfully to become permanent residents if they use public benefits. Starting Oct. 15, green card applicants could be rejected if they’ve turned to public benefits for more than 12 months of any 36-month period. That includes any of a wide array of programs, including most forms of Medicaid, food stamps, and public housing assistance. Immigrants could also be denied if officials determine they’re likely to use such benefits in the future.
White House aide Stephen Miller was a driving force behind the new rule, with the anti-immigration hard-liner reportedly telling officials to prioritize it above everything else. The policy could reduce the number of people who receive green cards and visas by half, with the government estimating that the status of roughly 382,000 immigrants could be immediately affected. Defending the rule, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty was meant for “Europeans” and suggested that it should carry a disclaimer. “Give me your tired and your poor,” Cuccinelli said, “who can stand on their own two feet.”
What the columnists said
The idea that President Trump only opposes illegal immigration “turns out to be—big surprise—a lie,” said Eugene Robinson in The Washington Post. The new rule forces legal immigrants to make an “impossible choice” between accepting benefits they might desperately need or gaining permanent residence. It also privileges immigrants from Europe while making it harder to come from the poorer, browner nations Trump denigrates as “s---hole countries.” This is just another part of “Trump’s crusade to Make America White Again.”
“This isn’t about race,” said Jonathan Tobin in the New York Post. It only makes sense to screen out immigrants who can’t support themselves. In fact, the idea is “an old one.” The new rule is based on the Immigration Act of 1882, which says the government can deny residency to anyone likely to become a “public charge.” The Trump administration has simply expanded and clarified the definition of who counts as a “public charge” to make it reflect our modern world.
“The idea that if someone has ever used a public benefit then they won’t ever become a contributing member of society is absurd,” said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. Almost 1 in 6 Americans used food stamps during the Great Recession. “The immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island a century ago did not, for the most part, come here on private yachts or in first-class berths,” said Joel Mathis in TheWeek.com. But they and their descendants strengthened the nation. Today’s immigrants are no different. Their children are just as likely as any other U.S. adults to be homeowners, and more likely to be college graduates. Somewhere, Emma Lazarus is weeping.