The United States of America does not want poor immigrants.
Major media outlets have spent the last couple of days hyperventilating about new Trump administration rules that will heighten scrutiny on immigrants who have, or may in the future, receive public assistance such as food stamps or subsidized healthcare.
The Wall Street Journal headline on the rule change read “Trump Administration to Deny Green Cards to Legal Immigrants Who Draw From Social Programs,” while the New York Times branded it as “Trump Rule Targets Legal Immigrants Who Rely on Food Stamps and Other Aid.”
But this isn’t anything new. As a rule, immigrants who rely on food stamps and other aid cannot be legal in the United States.
My wife was approved for her Green Card last week after nearly a year and a half of paperwork, interviews, big check-writing, and other terrifying tedium. The process, which runs into the thousands of dollars to begin with and often takes years—years during which many immigrants are not even eligible to work—requires multiple pages-long forms the purpose of which is to prove to American immigration authorities that the potential immigrant will never become a public charge.
This requires years of tax returns, stacks of paychecks, copy upon copy of bank account records, and legal affidavits, often from more than one sponsor, all in order to show that the potential immigrant almost certainly won’t end up on American public welfare (whatever that is).
Spouse doesn’t meet a certain threshold of income and assets well above the poverty line? Denied. Income foreign earned? Denied. Spouse a minimum wage worker, student, recently laid off, or frequently changing jobs? Denied, denied, denied, denied. Immigration officer unconvinced? Denied.
On top of that, immigrants must pledge among the hundreds of pages of paperwork that they have not and do not intend to benefit from public assistance of any kind in the United States. (They also must swear that they don’t intend to commit espionage, practice polygamy, and have never been a communist). Then, after months or years of waiting and sending in additional evidence, they must do it all again in their Green Card interview, face-to-face with the person who decides whether they stay or go. And if they’re unlucky, they have to do it again two years later.
If at any point during these applications and interviews, the immigration officer decides, for any reason, the potential immigrant has been or may become a public charge? Denied.
Oh, and those sponsors and co-cosponsors? They’re on the hook to pay back the federal government for any benefits the immigrant does receive in full.
The Trump administration plan calls for greater scrutiny on immigrant finances and greater latitude for immigration officers to deny immigration petitions. This will be very expensive. It will slow an already crawling application process, leaving tens of thousands of potential immigrants stuck in immigration limbo, unable to contribute or participate in the society they long to join. And it will leave even more immigrants locked outside of the American dream.
And all of that is what the existing laws were intended to do, as the New York Times knows (and buried toward the end of its story).
Another Times headline today read: “Trump Policy Favors Wealthier Immigrants for Green Cards.”
It’s true! Just like it has been for a long time.
America doesn’t want your poor, and it hasn’t for decades. Journalists playing useful idiot to attention-grabbing ploys by hardliners in the Trump administration only obscure that reality, which I fear will make it harder to achieve real and needed immigration reform when things return to “normal.”
For poorer immigrants, “normal” already sucked.
On the flip side, you can still always buy your citizenship.