Domestic Affairs

The Hidden Statements of Trump’s “Public Charge” Policy

October represented a huge setback for the Trump administration’s offensive on immigration. Three federal judges recently blocked President Trump’s policy that allows the United States to deny admission to immigrants deemed a “public charge,” somebody who is considered likely to become dependent on the government for subsistence. While the concept of “public charge” as grounds for inadmissibility has been around for over a century, the Trump administration is only now redefining the phrase to include government assistance. In doing so, the Trump administration is indirectly redefining what it means to be an American citizen.

The US government does not have a say in selecting its natural-born citizens; there’s no way to decide who is born in America and who is not. In the realm of immigration, however, the US has the power to choose who it wants to become an American. Thus, who we allow to enter this country is a clear reflection of who we see as an ideal American, because why would we ever let in anybody we saw as otherwise? The Trump administration has made their version of this ideal American evident: if you might need the government to lend you a hand one day in order to survive, then you do not deserve to live in the US.

With this statement comes an insulting connotation about the American populace — those who choose to accept welfare benefits are unwanted by their own country. Rather than seeing welfare recipients as people in need, the Trump administration identifies them as a drain on society. 

Coming from a family that has qualified for welfare benefits at times throughout my life, the president’s policy feels offensive as if my family is something that holds back America rather than pushes it forward like we try to do. However, my family’s experience with poverty only proves that the Trump administration lacks foresight in their perception of “public charges.” While my family may have had financial difficulties in the past, we have now grown out of it. Each of us now contributes to America in our own ways. After dipping below the poverty line, my mother eventually went back to school to become a teacher and school counselor. A generation later, my brother graduated college and I am poised to as well. 

Similarly, if an immigrant family uses government assistance initially, it does not mean that they are incapable of contributing to America in other ways or later on down the road. In fact, a study conducted by Princeton University in October indicates that children of poor immigrants have greater social mobility than the children of similarly poor native-born Americans. One of the authors even claimed that “short-term perspective on immigrant assimilation that politicians tend to take might underestimate the long-run success of immigrants.” 

Nobody wants to live in poverty; naturally, people will try to lift themselves out of such a situation. But, the Trump administration is stripping immigrants of this chance and dooming them to the circumstances they are trying to flee. This approach to immigration is far too one-dimensional because it puts too much emphasis on what immediate economic benefits an immigrant can bring to the table rather than weighing their potential or considering what kind of diversity they can offer.

The “public charge” rule also demonstrates the Trump administration’s lack of faith in the economy it continually boasts about. If it believes people who come to this country with a clean slate cannot lift themselves out of poverty, then maybe the problem does not lie with the “public charges” the US lets in but rather the lack of opportunities the US gives to impoverished people. 

One must acknowledge, however, that poverty rates have fallen to the lowest level since 2001 under the Trump administration. Despite this, there is still much to be done. One in eight Americans still lies below the poverty line and one in twenty falls below the “deep poverty” threshold, meaning their income is less than 50% of the poverty line. Additionally, the Trump administration has recently been rolling back assistance to impoverished people. Trump’s proposed budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year included massive cuts to Social Security, SNAP, and other assistance programs that currently keep 47.7 million people out of poverty. Last May, the administration even sought to redefine the poverty line by making it where fewer people would be designated as impoverished, thereby disqualifying millions from welfare benefits

These efforts, in conjunction with the exclusion of “public charges,” are symptoms of a larger movement by the Trump administration that has justified marginalizing impoverished people by claiming fiscal and economic reasons. At some point, saving taxpayer dollars collectively does more harm than good because citizens cannot reap the benefits of the programs their taxes go towards.

If the Trump administration is to “Make America Great Again,” then it must redefine its vision of an ideal immigrant by acknowledging that immigrants can contribute to the US in more than just an economic manner, such as through their diversity as low-income, international people. However, if this administration is to accept immigrants through the framework of economics, then it must develop some foresight with its decision-making by considering their potential future offerings rather than just the immediate economic benefits.

People can immigrate to the US through many different pathways: obtaining a work visa, filing as a refugee or asylee, studying with a student visa, and many more options; this diversity in immigration pathways cultivates diversity in immigrants. Contrarily, the Trump administration’s blanket “public charge” policy inhibits all of these different forms of immigration by filtering out many of the people that contribute to this diversity. If America continues with its current state of mind, then it will slowly flush out the people who need it the most while, in an economic sense, homogenizing the immigrant class. This administration is doing much more than just saying “yes or no” to an immigrant — they are crafting the future of America.

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