First, they came for the Syrian refugees and visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries — and 49 percent of the American public approved.
Now, with the huddled masses yearning to breathe free taken care of, the Trump administration is coming for your tired and your poor. Or so a draft executive order obtained by Vox and the Washington Post seems to suggest.
Under current law, legal immigrants have access to certain public benefits. But the federal government can deny an individual entry to the United States — or reject an immigrant’s request for permanent residence — if there is evidence that the individual is likely to become primarily dependent on government benefits for his or her subsistence.
When making that determination, the government can hold immigrants’ use of cash-based welfare programs (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) against them, but not their use of in-kind benefits, like food stamps or Medicaid.
But the Trump administration’s draft order would change that, by instructing the Department of Homeland Security to bar immigrants from the U.S. if they are likely to receive any means-tested benefit at all.
More radically, the order would subject visa holders who are already in the U.S. to deportation, if they use public benefits above a certain threshold. And — just in case that isn’t enough to keep non-wealthy foreigners away from our shores — the order would require the friend or family member who sponsored the deported immigrant to reimburse the federal government for the cost of the benefits he or she used.
The order would also bar undocumented immigrants from accessing the child tax credit, even when their children are U.S. citizens.
Further, the order would direct the government to publish recurring reports on how much money it spends on benefits for immigrants — and how those funds could be reinvested in America’s inner cities.
While there’s much to be said for informing the public on how its tax dollars are spent, the ostensible purpose of this report is to direct the anger and resentment of the native-born working poor toward the immigrants below them — instead of at the oligarchs above. After all, you could just as easily start publishing weekly reports on how subsidies to oil companies and the revenues that will be lost to Trump’s tax cuts for the rich — or the $20 billion the president wants to spend on his monument to American xenophobia — might be “reinvested” in our urban centers.
The Trump administration’s interest in directing working-class resentment toward immigrants is further affirmed in a separate executive order obtained by the Post:
The second order, titled “Executive Order on Protecting American Jobs and Workers by Strengthening the Integrity of Foreign Worker Visa Programs” calls for “eliminating” the “jobs magnet” that is driving illegal immigration to the United States, according to a copy obtained by The Post. The order would rescind any work visa provisions for foreign nationals found not to be in “the national interest” or in violation of U.S. immigration laws.
It weighs how to make America’s immigration program “more merit based,” calls for site visits at companies that employ foreign workers, and tasks the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with producing a report twice a year on the total number of foreign-born people — not just nonimmigrant visa holders — who are authorized to work in the United States.
Note the highlighted bit. In the eyes of this order’s authors, it isn’t just the undocumented — or welfare-leeching visa holders — whose presence in the United States is a subject of concern. Even foreign-born American citizens are counted among those who are, ostensibly, taking jobs that should have gone to real Americans.
The notion that immigrants are a primary cause of American wage stagnation is not economically supportable. But for an administration that wants to have its populist branding and its plutocratic agenda, too, it’s a politically useful one.
So it wouldn’t be surprising if these drafted orders end up getting Donald Trump’s autograph.