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Yvonne Abraham

Trump’s new immigration rule: Not just immoral — also stupid

Supporters lavished praise on President Trump during Thursday’s rally in Manchester, N.H.Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

It is not just un-American, and morally reprehensible.

The Trump administration’s new rule rejecting immigrants it deems likely to need public assistance is also monumentally stupid.

To see how the president’s naked attempt to exclude black and brown immigrants is shooting his own supporters and everybody else in the feet, let us consider the demographic time-bomb that is aged care.

America’s elderly population is exploding as baby boomers enter later life, and the pool of younger workers who could care for those seniors is too small to keep pace. Maine is already in the throes of this labor crisis, with desperate families struggling to get help caring for their elders. Massachusetts is headed down the same road, says Barry Bluestone, professor emeritus of public policy at Northeastern: He calculated that this state will have about 187,000 vacancies for personal care and home health aides between 2016 by 2026.

Who does that vital work right now? Lots of immigrants. For example, over one-quarter of the nation’s 2 million home care workers were born outside the United States, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. Among home health aides and nursing home workers, about 10 percent are not US citizens. In Massachusetts, more than a third were born outside the US. More than half have no formal education beyond high school. About half of them are people of color.


As vital as their work is, their pay is generally abysmal. Nationally, the median income for direct care workers was $19,100 as of 2016, according to the PHI, with about 13 percent of those workers living below the federal poverty line, and 40 percent poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. Half of all direct care workers rely on public assistance. A quarter of them — including those in Massachusetts — are on food stamps.


So, there’s a portrait of the people who stand between us and catastrophe as America ages. It is also a portrait of the very people the Trump administration is trying to keep out.

Its broad expansion of the “public charge” rule gives immigration officials massive discretion, allowing them to reject applications from people seeking to enter the US lawfully, or remain here, if they are judged likely to be a burden on the taxpayers at any time in the future. Receiving Medicaid, nutritional assistance, and some forms of housing assistance will count heavily against them. As will having little education or poor English. Points off, too, for being older, having health issues, and lacking private health insurance. They’re also in trouble if they earn less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, $26,663 for a family of three.

Let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that these rules nakedly favor more affluent immigrants from European countries, and clearly catering to the white supremacists inside and outside this administration.

Leave aside, too, the fact that the overwhelming majority of immigrants who entered this country in what Trump calls “the right way” are actually working, and paying the taxes that fund the benefits some of them need because their jobs pay so poorly.

Let us focus, instead, on how thoroughly idiotic this is — that, in their efforts to make America whiter, and win the next election, the people who run this country want to deprive its economy, and its future, of the very unskilled workers we so desperately need.


Where are the hundreds of thousands of home health aides and nursing home workers of 2026 going to come from if we exclude from this country the very people who are our best hope?

Already, the rule has scared away immigrants who arrived legally from seeking the assistance they are entitled to.

If it is allowed to stand, many others will suffer — including some who applaud this cruelty now, but will be old and in need of care themselves one day.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.