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So much talk these days about immigrants’ welfare use in the United States. Specifically, so much of it due to the Trump administration’s consideration of supposedly cruel and radical proposals to (1) deny admission into the United States anyone deemed likely to become a user of welfare programs, and (2) to deport even many legal immigrants benefiting from welfare. And so little reporting that this intention has been the law of the land for decades – but that the statutes have been written in utterly ludicrous ways.

The completely unjustified furor began when the Washington Post obtained a draft Trump administration Executive Order mandating the immigrant welfare crackdown. In the words of Post reporter Christopher Ingraham,

Such a move would represent a departure from current practice but would be consistent with the goals of Trump advisers Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller, who, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, ‘see themselves as launching a radical experiment to fundamentally transform how the U.S. decides who is allowed into the country.’”

Let’s leave aside for the moment the peculiarity of one journalist using others as sources of unassailable expertise. The more important point is that Ingraham (and his editors) briefly noted that “Strict eligibility guidelines…prevent many immigrants from receiving federal aid” – but are basing their conclusion about a radical break from the present on the completely specious distinction that American immigration law has been drawing between forms of public assistance classified as “cash welfare” and those placed in an (Orwellian) “non-cash” category.

Here’s how current American law is described by an organization dedicated to “Helping low-income individuals solve legal problems.” (And with its services offered in no less than 27 foreign languages, immigrants are plainly a high priority.)

Depending on your immigration status, the Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) and State Department consular officers can deny your application to become a permanent resident, or refuse to let you enter or re-enter the U.S., if they think you will not be able to support yourself without these benefits in the future.” (See this link.)

As WashingtonLawHelp explains, the government’s present focus is identifying (and excluding) anyone “who cannot support themselves and who [would] depend on cash welfare for their income.” But what the emphasis on “cash welfare” leaves out are those numerous and massive programs that do not involve outright cash payments – e.g., food stamps, and medical and housing benefits.

This bizarre loophole is what the Trump Order seeks to close. For it would add these programs to the roster of types of assistance whose receipt would legally turn an individual and/or their family into the kind of actual or potential “public charge” that current immigration law (only partly) aims to exclude from legal U.S. residence.

(For those of you now fearing that the Trump draft proposals would betray in an unprecedented manner the iconic and admirable Statue of Liberty commitment to America as a haven for the world’s “poor” and those “yearning to breathe free,” you can relax. These measures – like current law – would apply only to immigrants, not to those applying for entry as refugees, asylum seekers, or human trafficking victims.)   

So a big immigration policy change is definitely being contemplated. And it would certainly be dramatic, for Ingraham’s article makes clear that such non-cash assistance is the predominant type used by immigrants. But does the change really qualify as radical? Or even significant in a logical sense? If so, why? Because American taxpayers ultimately aren’t as completely on the hook for these so-called non-cash benefits as for cash benefits? What baloney.

So here are two descriptions for the possible change that actually deserve to become the standards: “Commonsensical” and “long overdue.”

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