Setting Rules by Sledgehammer

Terry H. Schwadron

Aug. 19, 2019

That new “rule” announced by immigration head Ken Cuccinelli to penalize green card holders — legal permanent residents — is 837 pages long, to deal with the thousands of bureaucratic speed bumps along the way.

But its summary can be reflected in one sentence: Immigrants who thread the needle hole towards legal citizenship must never need public help. No food stamps, ever; no Medicare or Medicaid; no housing aid and no reliance on benefits that make them a “public charge.”

Or else.

Or else, we’ll hold it against you when you finally come up for naturalization, probably years from now. Or take away your Green Card. Or deport you.

It’s more than a rule. It is a weapon aimed at American values. It is a rule change that favors whites over those black and brown, Europe over Latin America, wealth over family.

Excluded werestudent aid or loans, school-based programs like Head Start, and health services for minors.Oh yes, we shouldn’t overlook that serving in the military is quite ok — since that is a government paid program.

There has been quick reaction on a more or less emotional basis, including my own. It seems an unduly cruel rule, because some benefit programs involve children or seniors, because they involve health and disease, because they work only if the process towards permanent residency under normal conditions actually moves right along briskly.

It’s worth taking a look at the effect that these rules will have. If U.S. officials determine an immigrant is likely to become a “public charge,” that already is grounds for denial of a green card. The State Department has its own screening measures to determine eligibility for those seeking U.S. visas. Others see this as a backdoor effort to slash immigration levels.

I loved the journalist’s question who asked whether the Emma Goldman poem on the Statue of Liberty needs to be changed. Cuccinelli’s responses varied during the week but settled here: “Well, of course, that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe,” Cucinelli answered, “where they had class-based societies, where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class . . . And it was written one year after the first federal public charge rule was written.”

There are something like 13 million green card holders in the country, and about 400,000 each year who seek naturalization. Each year, there is a cap of about 140,000 green cards, which are further broken down by a total per country of 7% or 9,800, and by one of five employment categories, on a rough scale of temporary to more permanent. Basically, green card applicants are given a priority order depending on the specific date of application, which forms an electronic waiting line. What kicks in then are the caps per country or type of work.

That wait can be years, of course.

Without a green card, you can wait years longer for the chance to naturalize to U.S. citizenship.

In other words, there already is a whole lot of bureaucracy going on. Now add in this rule about public benefits. Set aside the morality for a moment: It’s meant to dry up legal immigration.

So, rather than taking half the effort to set up job training programs to produce certain industry-needed skills among new immigrants, we set up another program that comes across as punitive. Because it is.

Rather than taking the source of those huge raids in Mississippi of nearly 700 immigrant adults, without a care in the world about what happened to their children, and determining what that industry needs from the immigrants that those companies clearly are recruiting, we’re going to punish someone who finds a public housing program that agrees to offer an apartment?

Now, under these rules, if you are, say, a Chinese or Saudi tech millionaire who wants U.S. citizenship for ease of travel or investment possibilities, the door is wide open. If you are from an African nation with one child who has special medical needs, you might be waiting for the rest of your life. If you are Norwegian, speak English and have a potential employer who offers medical insurance, come right in.

These are criteria that skew the existing processes in favor of the highly skilled, high-income immigrants Trump prefers. The Trump administration has been seeking ways to weed out immigrants the president sees as undesirable, now including those who might draw on taxpayer-funded benefits. It always has been part of U.S. immigration law to screen out foreigners who might be a burden on society, but the rule change amounts to an expansion of the government’s definition of “public charge” — and who is deemed likely to become one.

We can therefore expect that this rule change will reduce family-based legal immigration to the United States, particularly from Latin America and Africa, where incomes are generally lower and lead to an increase in deportations, as those present with some form of provisional or temporary immigration status in the United States are denied legal residency.

Cuccinelli, the conservative former Virginia attorney general who heads the Immigration and Citizenship agency, says the change would benefit U.S. taxpayers by selecting better candidates for U.S. citizenship, ensuring “that our immigration system is bringing people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system — especially in the age of the modern welfare state, which is so expansive and expensive, frankly.”

How about we consider the reasoning as well as the rules.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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