The United States is built on the backs and dreams of immigrants, people who left strife-filled homelands in the hope of a better life.
It is the moral rationale that declares our collective claim to an American exceptionalism that has existed since the nation’s founding, despite periods when our actions have failed to align with our ideals.
Sadly, the Trump administration now has chosen to hurl a firebomb into a hay barn with a callous interpretation of longstanding immigration rules that prevents immigrants from gaining admission, renewing
visas or obtaining green cards if they are, “likely at any time to become a public charge.”
Until now, the interpretation of “public charge” in the Immigration and Nationality Act has leaned toward the spirit of the “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” inscription on the Statue of Liberty. It welcomed legal immigrants with the implicit understanding that most would seize a chance to prosper in a new land, as
many previous generations of newcomers had.
The Trump administration’s interpretation is, instead, a harsh and misguided broadside assault on legal immigration in the guise of curbing illegal immigration.
It seeks to use regulations to mount an end run around Congressional authority. Taken as a whole, it is rife with legal challenges and spells economic trouble for a nation that needs migrant labor.
The argument, as the Trump administration has made it, is that poor immigrants are destined to be on the public dole as patrons of Medicaid, food stamps and other public assistance.
This fallacy provides broad latitude for the government to reject anyone who is deemed at risk of becoming a “public charge” based on arbitrary assessments of levels of income, employment, education and English proficiency.
This is neither due process nor the spirit of a welcoming nation.
Numerous studies show that current earnings aren’t predictive of future income or government dependency.
New immigrants, however, are more likely to work, often filling jobs that Americans will not perform.
Legal immigrants are likely to have pulled themselves out of poverty into at least a modest lifestyle within four years in the country.
The administration should focus on promoting comprehensive immigration reform that enables legal immigrants, skilled and unskilled, to become prosperous and self-sufficient.
This country has a long and proud history of nonprofit organizations that help immigrants find their way, including acquiring language skills and establishing small businesses.
In the 1970s, the Ford administration encouraged families to take in Vietnamese refugees, bolstering a culture of compassion and self-reliance.
The nation must have a serious and thoughtful discussion of immigration policy and how best to fill skills gaps in the economy and resolve the myriad of other immigration-related issues without demonizing immigrants.
Erecting another hurdle to legal immigration is unproductive.