Trump's cruel attack on legal immigrants | Editorial

The Trump administration is preparing a new rule that would punish legal immigrants who use health and nutrition programs like Medicaid or food stamps. It would make it harder for them to get green cards or citizenship, if they have used any of a long list of safety net programs, even temporarily.
 
We've heard legitimate concerns about people coming over here with no means to support themselves and becoming a burden on the American taxpayer. We can't throw our doors open to everyone who gets cancer in China or Mexico. But consider the impact on the ground. Three things are appalling about this, even for a fiscal conservative who favors restricting immigration. 
 
First, this rule applies to legal immigrants. Those who are here illegally are already banned from virtually all federal anti-poverty programs. That's right - despite Trump's rhetoric about people "sneaking into the country," this is about denying care to someone who comes here legitimately for work, plays by all the rules, and then gets sick or falls on hard times.

The second thing to understand is that most of the victims, by far, will be children; millions of whom are U.S. citizens. This is thanks to an entirely predictable chilling effect. Legal-immigrant parents, not up on the minutia of Trump policy, will be afraid to seek out benefits for not only themselves, but for their children who independently qualify. 
 
They will forgo putting food in their kids' bellies and taking them to the doctor. Pregnant moms won't seek out checkups, for fear of jeopardizing their future legal status. This is happening already, local clinics say. And the confusion is deliberate. An earlier, harsher draft of this rule would have penalized immigrants not only for seeking out aid themselves, but for anyone in their household who did so. 
 
Amping-up this fear of interactions with the government, and discouraging use of these programs, is a calculated strategy by the Trump administration. And it's not only cruel. It could run up long term costs if kids and parents don't get adequate benefits, especially medical care. An untreated ear infection could lead to a serious and expensive illness.
 
Another reason this is bad fiscal policy: According to a report from the National Academy of Sciences, the public aid these immigrants get is typically short term, and the economic benefits they give our country kick in after that. Their reliance on safety net programs is most likely temporary, given that they are almost all working.
 
So whatever debt they run up during difficult times will be paid back in the long run. A government report commissioned, and then suppressed, by the Trump administration found the same of refugees. This is the problem with the idea that an immigrant who uses a safety net benefit at any time, or might do so in the future, is a "public charge," as Trump's expansive proposal states.
 
As Shawn Fremstad from the Center for American Progress put it, "What we need is a balanced immigration system that doesn't discriminate on the basis of class, rather than one in which you have to be Melania." Otherwise, we'll have trouble filling certain crucial but low-paying jobs, like caring for children or the elderly, which props up the higher earners in our economy. 
 
Trump's new policy is not just mean, it's bad economics. It reveals, too, that his administration - led by smug xenophobe Stephen Miller - just doesn't want more immigrants to dilute white America, even those who play by the rules that they are always touting. Because, in reality, it's not about who is "legal." It's about dictating who gets to be an American.  

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