New Trump Proposal to Restrict Legal Immigration Even Worse than Media Says

August 23, 2018

NPR reports that the “Trump administration is considering penalizing legal immigrants for using government benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps…”

NPR’s story is very good, but it also minimizes the radical scope of the Trump “public charge” proposal, which goes far beyond penalizing the receipt of means-tested benefits.

In fact, under the draft Trump proposal, an immigration official could deny a green card simply based on a judgment that an immigrant is “likely at any time” in the future to receive a single means-tested benefit or service for any period of time. As a practical matter, merely being potentially eligible for an income-tested benefit or service would be enough for immigration officials to deny a green card to an immigrant who otherwise meets all other criteria for a family-based visa. Moreover, immigration officials would be able to require immigrants to obtain bonds of $10,000 or more that they would then forfeit to the government if they ever received any means-tested benefit in the future.

This is a radical rewrite of the public charge provision in federal immigration law. Under current law, if a US citizen marries a foreign national, the spouse is generally eligible for a green card unless an immigration official finds that the immigrant spouse is likely to end up in a nursing home at public expense, or dependent on means-tested cash assistance (TANF or SSI) in order to subsist. Historically, this kind of finding has been rare and limited to cases where both the US citizen spouse and the immigrant spouse are unable to work and lack family or other financial resources.

Under the Trump proposal, an immigration official can deny a green card to an immigrant spouse simply because her/his US citizen spouse has a poorly compensated job. In effect, the Trump proposal is an attempt to ban legal immigration from what Trump called “shithole countries” earlier this year.

NPR isn’t alone in minimizing the scope of the Trump proposal. The Washington Post, New York Times, and others have also framed stories in ways that emphasize how the rule would penalize immigrants who currently receive benefits in the United States, but not how it would empower immigration officials to deny green cards to future family-based immigrants based on guesses about future receipt of benefits.

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