An Unhealthy Plan to Drive Out Immigrants

An Unhealthy Plan to Drive Out Immigrants


Originally published by The NY Times

The Trump administration has taken another step in its program to use fear and cruelty to drive out legal, as well as illegal, immigrants.

On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would enable it to deny green cards and visas to immigrants here legally who have used public health and nutrition assistance, including Medicaid and food stamps.

The United States already denies green cards and visas to applicants likely to become “public charges.” But that designation has generally referred only to a narrow set of people who need cash assistance or long-term institutionalization.

The new rules would also offer some exemptions — participation in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would be excluded, for example, as would refugees and asylum seekers and minors with Special Immigrant Juvenile status, meaning they had been abused or neglected.

But it’s not clear that those exemptions would provide sufficient protection. The Kaiser Family Foundation has indicated that fear of being denied residency would most likely cause immigrants to withdraw from both the targeted and the exempted programs. As Politico has reported, even when the current proposal was just a rumor, immigrants began withdrawing from these programs in droves. What’s more, not everyonewho should be able to seek asylum or obtain special juvenile status is able to do so.

The Department of Human Services estimates that as many as 382,000people would be affected by the new rule each year. There is no estimate yet on how many of them would be deemed to be public charges, but that number is likely to be far higher than under the current rules.

Which, of course, is the point. In an announcement on Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said that she expected the rule to “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”

That rationale is both callous and foolish: Scaring vulnerable populations off public assistance is likely to cost much more in the long run, in part because neglecting preventive health care and basic medical problems makes patients only more expensive to treat down the road. What’s more, Kaiser estimates that more than eight million children who are citizens but have at least one noncitizen parent will be caught in the cross hairs.

The Trump administration, however, is betting that a very public effort to crack down on immigrants, whether they’re here legally or not, will motivate its political base in time for the midterm elections. It’s just one more part of a package that has so far included an effort to detain indefinitely minors who have crossed the border and another to cap the number of refugees at its lowest level ever. It’s the border wall, without the wall.

There’s a real debate to be had over the criteria to decide who can stay in this country and who must go. What is the right way to manage family migration? Or evaluate asylum claims? Or weigh American labor needs against the skills of prospective visa holders? But cultivating xenophobia, as President Trump has done from the beginning of his campaign, and then trading on that fear to drum up votes, does not create much of a foundation for rational dialogue.

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