President Trump’s effort this week to make the lives of many immigrants that much more terrifying and dangerous is as bad for the United States as the people Trump wants to hurt. The rule is a dramatic shift from decades of immigration and safety-net policy.

Under the current system, an immigrant may be denied a green card if he or she is likely to become a “public charge,” that is, wind up as dependent on the government. The administration would redefine “public charge” to mean someone who has received, or are judged more likely than not to receive in the future, almost any need-based public benefit. Ever. Even if they are working. Even if their spouse is working. Even if they are temporarily between jobs and need food stamps to feed their kids.

A study released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds, “The rule will have two main impacts. It will make it harder for those currently of modest means to gain lawful entry or permission to remain in the country as a permanent resident.” This has been recognized as a blatant attempt to get white, rich immigrants instead of ones from war-torn or distressed countries, which would include much of South America, for example. In addition, the new rule “will make immigrant families fear receiving benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid, and housing assistance that can help them make ends meet and access health care when their low pay is not enough. Many will forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.”

The center’s report eviscerates the assumptions that underlie the president’s mean-spirited plan. “In 2018, the labor force participation rate of foreign-born adults was 65.7 percent, higher than the 62.3 percent rate for the native born, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some 27.2 million foreign-born adults, 63.4 percent of all foreign-born adults, were employed that year, compared to 59.8 percent of native-born adults.” These workers fill gaps in our economy (often doing dangerous and unpleasant work), provide support so spouses and children can work, and are exceptionally mobile, which makes the job market more efficient and flexible. And, because they are often younger than average native-born Americans, they help to fund Social Security, Medicare and other critical programs for our aging population.

Moreover, the notion that they abuse the system get “welfare” is wrong. “Most immigrants who receive benefits like SNAP or Medicaid are employed or are married to someone who works — a sign that they are working in low-paid jobs,” the report notes. “Our analysis of Census data shows that 77 percent of working-age immigrants (18 to 64) who received one or more of six benefits during 2017 also worked during the year or were married to a worker.” In addition, “Looking at young adults in immigrant families in 1999, at least 93 percent of those who received benefits were also employed most of the time or married to someone who is.” That points to the “frequently temporary nature of program participation and the common overlap between assistance and work within any given year.”

Two of the authors of the study, Sharon Parrott and Shelby Gonzales, held a press call in which they explained the flawed assumptions and unintended consequences of this shift.

For starters, the Trump administration — as we heard from Ken Cuccinelli’s lips — thinks only well-do-to immigrants benefit the United States. This ignores reams of evidence and decades of experience, which reaffirm that immigrants have higher rates of job participation than native-born Americans, are upwardly mobile and have kids who may be dramatically better off than their parents. A hundred-plus years of immigration history and virtually any family can tell us that manual laborers worked hard and raised kids who went to college and attained material success that greatly outstripped their parents. Trump would chase away hard-working people of modest means who contribute to their communities and would deprive the United States not only of their contributions but every generation thereafter that could have become productive Americans.

Furthermore, the rule is so amorphous (how can you tell if someone will ever need benefits?) that it is seemingly already causing otherwise qualified, legal immigrants to abstain from programs. The administration has, according to Parrott and Gonzales, lowballed the number of people who may be dislodged from benefit programs.

The experts explained that the government does not even have an estimate as to the total universe of people who would be turned away or denied permanent status. As such, they have no way to quantify the negative economic impact of shrinking the labor force, disrupting businesses and creating labor shortages.

Finally, as a result of people avoiding necessary benefit programs, there will be children who are not vaccinated or treated for communicable diseases, children and adults who do not perform well due to poor nutrition, and workers who miss work to care for a sick or injured family member who has not gotten medical attention. Prenatal care will be forgone as well. This is madness, a program whose design sets everyone up for failure and puts at risk the health of all Americans.

It is critical to remember we are talking here about legal immigrants. Trump is saying any immigrant who comes for any reason is of no value to us (i.e. will be excluded) if they are of modest means and may ever use, even temporarily, use a benefit program for themselves or their children.

Nothing could be more un-American and designed to discriminate against those who want to succeed here but haven’t been able to do so at home. If it weren’t so cruel, you’d say it was the most ineptly devised policy in memory. But this is not negligence; the purpose is cruelty and discrimination. That’s what Trump does to thrill his base, even if all of us suffer.

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