Though the proposed Mexican border wall and the “zero tolerance” policy that yielded family separations get all the headlines, the Trump administration is working to curb legal immigration, as well. The president has pressured Congress to enact a number of measures that would make it harder for people to emigrate to the United States, and also for immigrants already living in America legally to remain within our country’s borders. On Tuesday, NBC News reported that in the coming weeks the Trump administration will introduce a proposal that would make it more difficult for immigrants to obtain green cards or gain citizenship if they have used any of a number of popular public welfare programs. The measure would not need congressional approval.
According to a draft of the proposal described to NBC News, immigrants living legally in the United States who have used Obamacare, children’s health insurance, food stamps or other welfare programs could have a tough time receiving legal status. The administration’s rationale seems to be that these legal immigrants — many of whom are paying taxes — are mooching off programs paid for by “American” taxpayers.
“The administration is committed to enforcing existing immigration law, which is clearly intended to protect the American taxpayer by ensuring that foreign nationals seeking to enter or remain in the U.S are self-sufficient,” a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security told NBC News. “Any proposed changes would ensure that the government takes the responsibility of being good stewards of taxpayer funds seriously and adjudicates immigration benefit requests in accordance with the law.”
The measure is a coup for Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who has exhibited a Terminator-like focus on restricting American immigration policy. Miller was at the forefront of the administration’s push to enact the “zero tolerance” border policy that led to thousands of family separations, admitting it was being used to deter migrants from seeking asylum in the United States. He has tried to push several other measures through, many of which have been struck down by the federal judiciary. The new policy would precipitate what has already been a steep decline in the number of green cards issued since Trump took office, and experts estimate that over 20 million immigrants could be affected. Immigration lawyers told NBC News it would be the biggest overhaul of the legal immigration system in decades.
Though it may be appalling, the move isn’t surprising. In June, Politico reported that Miller had for months been meeting with various government officials to find ways to “use executive authority and under-the-radar rule changes” to bolster U.S. immigration policy. One of the measures that was reportedly being considered at the time was exactly what NBC News has reported the administration will implement in the coming weeks. Other measures under consideration were limiting visas for temporary agricultural workers, making student visas more difficult to obtain and collecting biometric data from foreign visitors to the United States.
As for that elusive border wall, the Government Accountability Office on Monday released a report detailing how the Trump administration neglected to consider a number of factors in its assessment of the project. The agency warned the DHS that the there is a risk that the wall “will cost more than projected, take longer than planned, or not fully perform as expected.”
“This report exposes what we have suspected would happen for over a year,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who requested the report, said in a statement. “The Trump administration, fixated on campaign promises no matter the cost or consequences, is rushing the construction of the president’s completely unnecessary border ‘wall.’ In moving too fast, they have ignored necessary and established acquisitions protocols and plan to build a multi-billion dollar border wall where their own analysis shows it is not a priority.”
With the wall more or less out of reach, the administration has turned to Miller and whatever insidious tactics he can devise that wouldn’t require approval from lawmakers. Trump’s team has attempted to justify its “zero tolerance” policy at the border by admonishing the migrants attempting to cross into America as criminals. That they need to follow the “rule of law” and wait in line like everyone else has been a familiar refrain parroted by administration officials. There are no excuses left for the administration to lean on in explaining why they are doing this.