The Trump administration is not done targeting immigrants for deportation — even those who are in the country lawfully.
According to The Washington Post (and others, including The Wall Street Journal), the Trump administration is studying whether to deport legal immigrants already living in the country if they’ve received some welfare benefits. The reports are based on drafts of executive orders circulating among Trump administration officials.
Such a policy, if enacted, appears to reflect a fundamental tenet of Trump’s political doctrine: Immigrants are the ultimate political props, useful as scapegoats for an assortment of woes, including terrorism and chronic unemployment in depressed areas.
The president seems to have taken at face value the narrative coursing through right wing talk radio and blogs, that the foreign-born have nothing to contribute to the future of the country and are just here to steal welfare benefits.
Facts tell a different story. Research shows that immigrants are less likely to use public assistance than are native-born citizens. And federal law already bars even many legal immigrants from tapping government benefits. Unauthorized immigrants and workers, or students on temporary visas, are generally not eligible to receive them at all, and green card holders are eligible only after five years. Besides, green card holders are generally working and paying taxes, so why shouldn’t they be eligible for benefits?
But that’s not all Trump is considering: Another leaked draft would severely limit work visas and micromanage foreign workers employed on US soil. (One example: It calls for site visits at companies that employ foreign workers.) It also instructs federal agencies to compile a report on “the steps they are taking to combat the birth tourism phenomenon,” referring to the tide of foreign citizens Trump seems to believe have inundated America to give birth so their children will have US citizenship.
If enacted, the order that mandates deporting legal immigrants who have received welfare benefits will probably rip families apart. There are millions of so-called mixed-status families in the United States, with children who were born here to noncitizen parents. Using government benefits isn’t a crime and, in some cases, like food stamps, the government actually encourages poor families who are eligible to use them. Trump’s order would punish on-the-books immigrants who have followed the rules, and in some cases even followed the government’s advice, an especially unfair policy for a president who claims to value legal immigration.
If there’s a silver lining to Trump’s threats, it’s that they are already forcing a full-scale discussion about the true benefits of an immigrant-friendly nation. Trump-like thinking on immigration is not new, and, throughout the country’s history, waves of xenophobia have eventually succumbed to policies that embrace immigrants. Trump’s draft order is an assault on all immigrants, whether they use government benefits or not. But it is also an opportunity for another generation to relearn America’s founding lesson: Immigrants make America great.