The White House says the new rules restricting the ability of legal immigrants to receive welfare are enforcing existing laws and protecting poor and vulnerable Americans. Critics are calling them un-American and racist.
Announced Monday by acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, the rules would make most legal immigrants ineligible for welfare benefits, public housing and food stamps. Being considered a “public charge” would also make foreigners ineligible for entry into the US, and those already in the country ineligible for citizenship or permanent residence. The rules go into effect on October 15, with exemptions for refugees and asylum seekers.
The move aims to “ensure that non-citizens do not abuse our public benefit programs and jeopardize the safety net needed by vulnerable Americans,” the White House said in a statement.
Critics of the Trump administration were having none of it, swiftly denouncing the measure as un-American, discriminatory, and even racist.
“This rule sends a cruel message that the government doesn’t think poor people and people with disabilities are valuable members of our communities,”said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). “Immigrants are welcome here, no matter how much money you make or whether you’re living with disabilities.”
Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-New York) invoked the poem on the Statue of Liberty, calling the new rule “coldhearted” and “targeting less fortunate immigrants.”
The state’s Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, called it “patently un-American” to deny benefit recipients a path to citizenship.
This is yet another action by the Trump Administration to restrict legal immigration into our country.
Denying people a path to citizenship simply because they depend on public benefits is patently un-American.
We will fight back. https://t.co/0x1ljuF9N5
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) August 12, 2019
“This news is a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them, instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: you are not welcome here,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director at the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).
Hincapié also described the rules as a “racially-motivated policy” and an attempt by the Trump administration to “undermine our democracy by blocking potential future voters from becoming permanent residents and citizens.”
Resistance celebrity Seth Abramson also saw racism in the new rules, going so far as to accuse Republicans of being a party that “stacks courts to ensure voter suppression and systemically uses disinformation to mislead voters and now uses immigration policy to keep America white and Republican.”
If you understand that America is a nation governed by its minority party, the Republican Party, which stacks courts to ensure voter suppression and systemically uses disinformation to mislead voters and now uses immigration policy to keep America white and Republican, you get it
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) August 12, 2019
The White House pointed out that becoming a public charge has been grounds for refusing entry or US citizenship for over a century, and that the rules are based on laws passed in 1996 as part of welfare and immigration reforms under President Bill Clinton.
A 2016 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine showed that the annual net cost of first-generation immigrants to the US amounts to $57.4 billion, much of it paid by state and local taxpayers.
However, the report also found that second-generation adults generate a surplus of $30.5 billion, which grows to over $300 billion for third-generation immigrants and beyond.
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