Leslie Marshall: Trump restrictions on legal immigration betray America’s immigrant heritage

President Trump’s action this week to restrict legal immigration by people who might need public assistance in the future is a rejection of our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants and has the effect of erasing the beautiful and welcoming words on the Statue of Liberty.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” Lady Liberty beckons in a poem on the statue’s pedestal. “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Instead of those warm and kind-hearted words written by poet Emma Lazarus, we have been offered a new version by Ken Cuccinelli, Trump’s acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services: "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge," Cuccinelli said in an interview with NPR.

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Millions of American citizens – immigrants and descendants of immigrants – would never have been admitted to our great country under the new Trump rule that favors affluent and well-educated immigrants over “the wretched refuse” Lazarus wrote about.

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Since Europeans first landed in what’s now the United States, many poor, struggling immigrants who didn’t speak a word of English when they arrived have gone on to become productive, taxpaying citizens. And many of their children, grandchildren and generations beyond have earned college degrees and become doctors, scientists, teachers, inventors, artists, business owners and elected officials. Even billionaires. Even presidents of the United States.

Donald’s Trump’s grandparents, his mother, and two of his three wives were all immigrants. As the Washington Post reported, Trump’s grandfather Friedrich Trump arrived in New York Harbor in 1885 as a 16-year-old barber’s apprentice who didn’t speak English, without a high school diploma, and with nothing but “some clothes crammed into a small suitcase.”

It seems pretty clear that if President Trump’s new restrictions on legal immigration had been in effect in 1885, his own grandfather wouldn’t have been allowed into our country. No one knows if Friedrich’s descendants would be living in Germany today, but it’s pretty unlikely one would be in the White House.

The Trump administration’s so-called “public charge rule” that was announced Monday will allow immigration officials to consider a whole slew of factors to determine if immigrants already in the U.S. legally on temporary visas should be granted what’s known as a green card. A green card gives an immigrant permanent resident status, and the green card holder can go on to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years.

The new rule, which is scheduled to go into effect Oct. 15, is being challenged in court by two California counties that claim the rule violates federal immigration law.

Under the rule, officials will consider an immigrant’s age, health, family status, assets, resources, financial status and education in deciding whether to grant a legal immigrant permanent resident status.

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The rule is clearly the Trump administration’s way of embracing and favoring the wealthy over the poor when green cards are being handed out. Let’s face it: this is an aggressive wealth test and will disproportionately harm non-white immigrants.

It seems pretty clear that if President Trump’s new restrictions on legal immigration had been in effect in 1885, his own grandfather wouldn’t have been allowed into our country.

Remember back when then-candidate Donald Trump was running for president and said: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. …They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing … drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

At that time and since, Trump supporters have said he meant “illegal” immigrants when he made that statement. If any of us dare to accuse Republicans of being anti-immigrant they insist that they’re not. They say they only oppose illegal immigration. They claim to welcome those who come here legally.

Really?

Then why is this new rule directed at the very people the Republicans claim to say they support? This rule is clearly an attack on people who have come here legally, who have followed the rules, and who have gone through or are going through the system. Some currently hold green cards.

Under this new rule, President Trump and his administration are shunning immigrants who are struggling and who come to the United States in search of a better life for themselves, their children and grandchildren. People like his own grandfather!

The new rule makes exceptions for pregnant women, children, refugees, members of the military and those who already hold green cards. However, the rule also states that immigration officials have the authority to refuse a green card recipient citizenship.

If the new rule survives legal challenges, legal immigrants will fear taking temporary public assistance because that could make it impossible for them to get or keep permanent resident status in our country. Pregnant women who need proper prenatal care and new mothers who need assistance to provide for their babies will fear to take such assistance, risking their health and that of their sons and daughters.

The new rule demands that legal immigrants coming to the U.S. or who are already here be “self-sufficient.”  In other words, if you aren’t young and educated with money, you can be denied permanent legal residency. This is a terrible precedent to set. It is not who we are as a nation and not how America was built.

Public assistance programs such as food stamps, welfare, assisted housing, and others were put in place to be a helping hand up and out of an individual’s current situation. The overwhelming majority of immigrants in this country work and pay taxes and are not seeking a handout, despite what President Trump claims. If they need public assistance, it is usually for just a brief period while they get settled.

Under the new green card rule, a family of four must earn $64,000 or more to be considered a good prospect for self-sufficiency – an amount many American families don’t earn.

And the new rule doesn’t take certain situations into account. What if someone is a seasonal worker? Laid off? Sick? Or becomes disabled on the job or in a car accident? Should all such people lose their green cards or their chance of getting a green card?

Immigration officials will also be given broad leeway to determine whether legal immigrants are likely to need public assistance in the future and use that determination to deny the immigrants a green card or citizenship.

In other words, someone may not be getting public assistance now, but could be barred from permanent resident status because a federal official thinks the person may need public assistance in the future.

This is a very subjective process. If any official bears any resentment toward any person or group of people – for example, Muslims or Hispanics – the official could deny such a person a green card.

This would clearly allow the Trump administration and immigration officials to shape the future demographics of the United States.

My hope is that legal challenges will keep the new rule from taking effect. It stands in opposition to everything America stands for, and turns our proud status as a magnet for immigrants from around the world on its head.

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I understand the debate over immigrants coming here without legal authorization. But there should be no debate about legal immigration.

America didn’t become great in spite of immigrants – it became great because of them. And unless you’re a Native American, you too have immigrant roots. Want to see the result of legal immigration? Just look in the mirror.

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