President Trump has unveiled his latest immigration policy. In a move that should leave little doubt as to the core mission of his administration’s immigration reform campaign, he is attempting make it easier to deny people visas for being poor.
Announced yesterday, Trump's latest policy enables a new aspect to the review process for green card and citizenship applications: essentially implementing a system where applicants would be “sized up” based on their wealth and financial resources, health, education and English-language proficiency. Specifically, it dictates that evaluators should consider whether an applicant has used government assistance programs. This will target and punish legal immigrants who use safety net programs like SNAP, Medicaid, or government-subsidized housing.
According to acting US Citizenship and Immigration Services director Ken Cuccinelli, the new policy – which is scheduled to go into effect in 60 days – is aimed at “reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.”
This statement is laughable, considering this administration is led by someone with a well-documented history of failing to take personal responsibility or maintain self-sufficiency, instead working countless legal loopholes (many available only to the wealthy) and dodging financial obligations using tactics like declaring bankruptcy.
The main takeaway, though, is simple: it’s an obvious tactic to weed out “undesirables”. To pick and choose who is permitted to pursue a path to citizenship, and who doesn’t make the cut. To echo a refrain chanted at recent Trump rallies, it’s an officially sanctioned way to “send them back.”
This aligns nicely with Trump’s focus on keeping out immigrants from Mexico, central America, and other regions with poor populations of predominantly people of colour.
Who will make the cut? It’s not that hard to guess. By giving priority to those who are wealthy and well-educated, the odds will skew heavily in favor of those who hail from richer and predominantly white regions. When giving examples of immigrants he’d welcome, Trump generally references European countries, such as Norway.
I’ve heard numerous Trump supporters insist that he (and they) have nothing against immigrants in general – just the “illegals”. But this move targets legal immigrants who have followed the rules and gone through the proper channels to seek green cards or citizenship status. Likewise, many of the border separation atrocities also involve people who were seeking asylum through the legally dictated process.
This policy will force people into a cruel dilemma: if they forego benefits for which they are legally entitled in order to avoid risking their chances are permanent citizenship, they will likely suffer and struggle to survive. But if they opt to use those benefits, they could put their future as a US citizen in jeopardy. For many it will be a no-win situation.
I can’t help but wonder how the First Lady herself, Melania Trump, would fare under her husband's new ranking structure, given that she apparently lacked a college degree and steady full-time employment when she applied for US citizenship.
The public comment period for the then-proposed rule was open for 60 days in late 2018, during which time more than 260,000 comments were submitted. The DHS document notes that the “vast majority” of those comments expressed opposition to the rule. The summary also noted that commenters believe the proposal devalues low-wage workers and will make it impossible for immigrants with disabilities to become citizens unless they are independently wealthy.
Cuccinelli said that this policy would affect roughly 400,000 people a year, whose applications for a green card or permanent citizenship will now include a “meaningful analysis of whether they are likely to become a public charge.” Immigration advocates say the real impact could be much larger, with the policy easily being used in a broader way that could have ramifications for millions of current or future immigrants.
It is sad that the path to American citizenship may now be based on a system that that contradicts the words which are engraved on the Statue of Liberty, our most iconic symbol of national welcoming: “give me your tired, your poor…your homeless.”
Bobbi Dempsey is a communications fellow at Community Change.