Legal experts say 'Grandpa Trump' might have failed the administration's new 'wealth test' if he immigrated to the US today

pcachero@businessinsider.com (Paulina Cachero)
Trump immigration

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On Monday, the Supreme court ruled that it would allow the Trump administration's "public charge" immigration rule, expanding the government's ability to reject green cards from immigrants using public benefits. 

While the administration saw the ruling as a huge win, legal experts say that President Donald Trump's own immigrant grandfather might not have been allowed into the US if he came to America today, Newsweek reported. 

Jesse Bless, the director of federal litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association, told Newsweek that Trump's grandfather would be more likely "refused entry into the US now versus then."

"If Grandpa Trump were to enter today it is far more likely that he would be deemed 'likely to become a public charge' or refused entry now versus then," Bless told Newsweek

The new policy would expand existing federal statutes that make immigrants inadmissible if they use government-funded public benefits, or if "they are likely at any time to become a public charge," Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco wrote when asking the Supreme Court to lift the injunctions. 

The rule  — referred to as the "wealth test" by critics — will also allow the government to consider "negative" factors before granting permanent residency or a temporary visa to immigrants, such as their use of government benefits as well as their education and household income.

When Friedrich Trump immigrated to New York from Germany in 1885, he only had a suitcase of clothes and couldn't speak English, according to a book by Gwenda Blair titled "The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire."

The president's grandfather also hadn't finished secondary school and worked as a barber prior to amassing a fortune opening hotels, restaurants, and taverns in mining towns during the Gold Rush era. 

Now that the government is "weighing 'negative factors' more heavily" an individual with the same set of circumstances as "Grandpa Trump" would be "far less likely to gain admission to the United States," Bless said.

However, another legal expert said it was "not clear" whether Trump's grandfather would have been impacted by the "public charge" rule. Natalia Renata, a senior policy strategist for the Center for Popular Democracy Action, added that Trump's overall immigration policy would have made it more difficult for immigrants like his grandfather to build a life in America. 

"Trump's grandfather, as someone who came to the US alone at 16 years of age with only one suitcase, is an example of how many people came to the US with little or nothing and were given an opportunity to thrive," Renta told Newsweek. "Many immigrants attempting to thrive in the US are not given the opportunities that were central to Trump's grandfather being able to build a life here."

A "Public Charge" rule or a "Wealth Test?"

The Trump administration's rule expands on an existing federal statute that says "an individual who is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible to the United States."

Previously, fewer than 1% of green-card applicants were disqualified on public-charge grounds, according to The New York Times. Federal officials maintain that the expanded rule simply ensures that immigrants can cover living expenses without burdening taxpayers and will not be retroactive or apply to refugees and asylees who fled persecution for safety in the United States, the Washington Post reported

"This decision allows the government to implement regulations effectuating longstanding federal law that newcomers to this country must be financially self-sufficient and not a 'public charge' on our country and its citizens," White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement following the Supreme Court decision. 

However, the expanded policy has drawn sharp criticism from US politicians and immigration policy experts alike, who believe it is a "wealth test" on poorer immigrants.  

Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the rule will impact immigrants with disabilities, many of whom rely on public benefits like Medicaid.

"This will engender a lot of fear from immigrants trying to seek visas or green cards, a lot of anxiety," Centre told Insider

And freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez castigated Trump for his new "wealth test" policy on Twitter, calling the new immigration policy "shameful" on Monday. 

"America shouldn't have a wealth test for admission. It's a place where millions of people are descendants of immigrants who came w nothing & made a life," the lawmaker tweeted. "The American Dream isn't a private club with a cover charge — it's the possibility of remaking your future." 

While the "public charge" rule is now in effect, experts say the decision is temporary, as lower courts continue to challenge the immigration policy. 

"Although today's ruling is not a good sign, it's possible that one of those cases will persuade the courts, including the Supreme Court, to block the rule," Center said. "But for now, it's going into effect."

Isaac Scher contributed to this report. 

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