The Rule That Could Threaten Your Green Card
(The Bloomberg View) -- As Congress and the courts have blocked some of President Donald Trump’s most aggressive attacks on immigration, the White House has chosen to wage the war through federal regulation. A proposed rule change under review by the Office of Management and Budget would have far-reaching effects on legal immigrants already living in the U.S. and on others seeking to come.
The rule, early versions of which have been leaked, would greatly expand the definition of who is likely to become a “public charge.” Currently, an immigrant applying for residence through a family or diversity visa is denied if he or she appears likely to become dependent on cash assistance from the government, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or to require long-term health care at public expense.
Now, the Trump administration is considering making it more difficult for immigrants to obtain a green card for residency or a temporary visa extension if they — or their dependents — use any of a wide range of noncash public benefits, including food stamps, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program or public assistance for housing or home heating. The rule would apply even if the dependents are children who are American citizens.
The rule stands to increase by a factor of more than 15 the share of noncitizens who could be deemed “likely to become a public charge” — to nearly half of the noncitizen population, according to the Migration Policy Institute. From 2014 to 2016, almost 18 million noncitizens and naturalized citizens lived in families in which at least one member used a major means-tested public benefit program.
The policy appears to assume that immigrants who receive public benefits, which are often temporary, represent a net loss to the nation. But this is false. Many of the immigrants who would be blocked by Trump’s new test qualify for public benefits because they work for low wages or are sometimes in need of assistance between jobs. Such a restrictive rule could easily pressure immigrants in crisis — even short-term crisis — to go without help for themselves or their dependents for fear of jeopardizing their status.
The purpose of the pending regulation change seems clear. Trump wants to end both diversity visas and what he calls “chain migration” — the reunification of immigrant families. Having failed to move relevant legislation through Congress, he is seeking to achieve a similar end through unilateral executive action. At the same time, his administration is turning away refugees and asylum seekers.
Legal immigrants come to the U.S. under a wide array of circumstances — some in comfort, others in desperation. But time and again, even the poorest and least-educated among them manage to work their way out of hardship and realize their American dream.
Making that process more difficult, by punishing striving immigrants for arriving without ample means, runs counter to American history and values. It also represents a threat to U.S. prosperity, which depends on the ingenuity and labor of immigrants to power the economy and pay the taxes that sustain social services.
The president should stop freelancing on immigration restriction and instead work with Congress to achieve an immigration compromise that serves American interests and upholds American values.
Editorials are written by the Bloomberg View editorial board.
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