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The Greatness Agenda

Spare the Angst Over the ‘Public Charge’ Rule

Our immigration debate has become far more about virtue signaling and stoking misplaced public outrage than about what the law actually says.


- August 17th, 2019
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The Trump Administration is continuing to take steps to enforce existing immigration laws. And the response from the Left and the mainstream media (at this point, one and the same) has been what you’d expect.

Earlier in the week, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that after nearly a year of work the administration has finalized its “public charge” rule, which clarifies that an immigrant’s ability to stay off the welfare system must be taken into account when considering qualifications for a green card.

The notion of admitting immigrants who can become self-sufficient, contributing members of American society is a foundational principle of our immigration law, dating back to 1645 when the colony of Massachusetts passed a law to prohibit the admission of paupers. The principle was later formalized at the federal level in the Immigration Act of 1882, which banned entry to immigrants who would be relying solely on American taxpayers for their welfare.

The definition was updated in the Immigration Control and Financial Responsibility Act of 1996, which required that federal officials consider “age, health, family status, assets, resources, and financial status; and education and skills” when evaluating whether to grant a green card.

Specifically, the 1996 law—which at the time was supported by Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Steny Hoyer, Dianne Feinstein, Dick Durbin, Joe Biden, and Patrick Leahy, among others—made clear that “any alien, at the time of application for a visa . . . is likely at any time to become a public charge is inadmissible.”

The Trump Administration’s new regulation does not create new law. It simply updates the 1996 statutory definition with a more modern definition of what constitutes a welfare benefit—including food stamps, Medicaid, and public housing assistance.

Reliance on these forms of assistance will now be considered in an applicant’s “totality of circumstances,” which USCIS officials will review in considering whether or not the immigrant is likely to become a public charge. According to census data, 4.6 million households, or 63 percent of noncitizens, use the welfare system.

Notably, this new rule only applies to those seeking legal permanent residence—that is, green cards. It does not apply to immigrants coming here to seek asylum, victims of domestic violence, trafficking victims, or those here as refugees.

Assistance for pregnant mothers and children are not considered as counting toward a public charge, nor is foster care and adoption subsidies, student loan or mortgage assistance, energy subsidies, food pantries, homeless shelter support, or Head Start.

Facts Don’t Matter When You Can Virtue Signal

 National polling continues to show that immigration is the top concern for American citizens. Immigrants’ access to the welfare system at the expense of citizens is a long-standing grievance.

Yet, the response from the Left and the mainstream media, predictably, has roundly eschewed what regular Americans say they care about.

Immigration groups howled that the rule is “an attack on immigrant families,” and a “radical transformation of our immigration.” Both a professional Obama Bro and the Wall Street Journal compared Trump’s efforts to President Obama’s attempts to end-run Congress. “Trump official: migrants who go on food stamps shouldn’t get green cards,” blared a headline at Vice.

None of this is true, of course. In fact, it’s so wildly exaggerated that it borders on willful ignorance. The so-called “radical transformation of our immigration” clarifies a law that’s been on the books for more than 20 years and has its origins in long-standing American public opinion and law regarding the self-sufficiency of immigrants. And the rule would only apply to the approximately 400,000 legal immigrants seeking a green card each year. Per the 1996 statute, the ongoing use of the welfare system is not a deciding factor; rather, it will be only part of a broader consideration of an immigrant’s skill set, age, family, and financial status.

Finally, it’s a far cry from the Obama-era abuse of executive orders, which composed new law out of thin air. The Trump Administration is working within laws passed by Congress and hewing to the Administrative Procedures Act while doing so.

For a true lack of any substantive inquiry, however, look no further than the television and radio media, that seems far less interested in the facts than debating whether or not the poem on the Statue of Liberty still applies to America.

Rachel Martin at National Public Radio, Erin Burnett of CNN, and White House press reporters, all had opportunities to ask substantive questions about the regulation, but instead jumped on the hyperbolic bandwagon—but the Statue of Liberty says “give us your poor!”—apparently believing that, in this country, we make policy by poem and not by years of laws passed by Congress (and supported by the same Democrats now decrying those laws).

If Congress Doesn’t Like It, Change the Law

Our immigration debate has become far more about virtue signaling and stoking misplaced public outrage than about what the law actually says. And this is dangerous, because it creates an illusion that laws are simply suggestions which can be willfully ignored if public opinion demands it.

It further masks where the real responsibility lies—and that’s with Congress.

The law says what it says, and the Trump Administration—or any administration—should not be penalized for enforcing the law. If Congress doesn’t like it, it can change the law as the Constitution allows. And if the voters don’t like the outcome, they’re free to elect people who will do differently.

Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact [email protected].

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