Donald Trump’s defenders have insisted all along that when evaluating his immigration policy, we should ignore his veiled and even textbook racist appeals, and instead view it as a straightforward application of law enforcement. “Would-be lawbreakers know that we are restoring the rule of law and enforcing our immigration laws again,” boasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “At stake in this debate is not how to enforce immigration laws but whether we should do so at all,” argued conservative columnist Jonathan Tobin. It’s not about keeping America white, they say, it’s about following the rules and making people get in line.
That defense was strained to the breaking point by Trump’s child-separation policy, which frequently targeted families attempting to seek asylum through legal channels. And now the bare pretense is about to be snapped altogether.
NBC’s Julia Ainsley has obtained an internal Trump administration document laying out a plan to deny citizenship to legal immigrants. The mastermind of the new policy is Stephen Miller, a radical who has gained almost total control of the administration’s immigration agenda. Under the forthcoming plan, any legal immigrants who have ever used (or whose household contains people who have ever used) children’s health insurance (CHIP), Obamacare, supplemental nutrition assistance, or other social benefits could be denied legal status.
Since the 19th century, immigration policy has discriminated against migrants who might become a “public charge.” But Trump plans to expand the definition of the term to include basic benefits for the working class, like health insurance. Almost nobody in the United States actually pays for their own insurance in a completely self-sufficient fashion. People who get insurance through their job are benefitting from a massive, costly tax deduction for employer-sponsored insurance. Those who get it through Medicare likewise enjoy a taxpayer-financed social benefit.
Programs like Obamacare and CHIP simply extend the same regimen of subsidies and risk pooling to the low-income population that have already been granted to the middle class. To define people getting insurance this way as “public charges” does violence to the concept. But it is also perfectly in keeping with the Randian ideology that has crept into Republican thought and never left, despite Trump’s ostensible populism. Low-income workers are to be reconceptualized as the leeching 47-percenters that Mitt Romney so despised.
Trump’s contribution to the party creed will be to infuse the top-down class war with a racial tinge. That this all proceeds from some fastidiousness about following the rules is a pretense nobody need bother entertaining anymore.