Trump rule can deny legal status for immigrants using public assistance
Immigrants processed at Ellis Island after having passed the welcoming words on the Statue of Liberty. Millions of immigrants came to the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Immigrants have historically been and continue to be hard working individuals who helped build the country, something the Trump administration doesn't seem to understand. | AP

At every turn the Trump administration takes regarding immigration, there’s only one tangible goal: Fear produced by inhumane tactics aimed at deterring migration to the U.S. from Central America and Mexico.

On Aug. 3, 22 people were killed by a domestic terrorist in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. The shooter targeted Mexicans and Mexican Americans in the attack, quoting Donald Trump frequently in his rambling, hate-filled manifesto.

Last week, terror was in the form of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids at several Mississippi food processing plants. Government officials said the raids resulted in 680 arrests—the largest workplace raid ever, and the largest overall raid in the last ten years.

Families were again forcibly separated, and the, now-common, images of young children in tears, hope nowhere to be found behind their eyes, were splashed across the evening news and social media.

Today, the Trump administration introduced a new set of rules that could deny green cards to immigrants using Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, or other forms of public assistance. It is one of the administration’s most aggressive moves to restrict legal immigration.

Currently, federal law already requires individuals seeking a green card and legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S., what’s known as a “public charge,” but these new rules broaden the scope of programs that could disqualify them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now consider public assistance along with factors such as education, household income, and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” said Citizenship and Immigration Services acting director Ken Cuccinelli. “That’s a core principle of the American Dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.” Cuccinelli conveniently forgets that many millions of immigrants to the U.S. have historically arrived here with nothing but the clothes on their backs and it was these same people who contributed mightily to building the country.

While the recent rule changes certainly fit Trump and the Republican Party’s overall immigration policy narrative, it’s a shift from Trump’s main effort to crack down on “illegal immigration” and focuses on individuals who entered the U.S. legally and are seeking permanent status. The message emblazoned on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor…” means nothing to this administration.

On average, 544,000 people apply annually for green cards, The highest number,  in 2016, was 617,752, with around 382,000 individuals falling into the categories that would subject them to this new review.

Under the new guidelines, the Department of Homeland security redefined “public charge” as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within 36 months. And the definition was expanded to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Individuals hoping for a green card status will also be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a detailed job history.

Immigrants make up a small percentage of those getting public assistance, many being ineligible due to immigration status, and an Associated Press analysis last year of census data showed low-income immigrants who are not citizens use public assistance at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.

“Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children, and parents,” said Ur Jaddou, a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel and now director of the DHS Watch immigrant advocacy group. “These are not just small changes. They are big changes with enormous consequences for U.S. citizens.”

The new rules will go into effect in mid-October and comes at a time of increased scrutiny and criticism of Trump’s extreme policies and campaign rhetoric. Expect lawsuits and mass action to try to block the changes.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.