Leaked Executive Order Threatens Family-Based Immigration

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore (CC License)

Last week, while the world was still caught up in the turmoil created by President Trump’s Muslim Ban, three other proposed executive orders were leaked. None have been signed yet, but all indications are that they will be issued in a few weeks. I detailed the executive order that would end DACA in an article last week and will discuss a proposed order on employment visas soon. Today I want to look at the proposed order attacking low-income immigrants, which is entitled the “Executive Order on Protecting Taxpayer Resources by Ensuring Our Immigration Laws Promote Accountability and Responsibility.”

The first thing to understand in discussing this proposed executive order is that it has not been signed yet and that even when it is issued it will be challenged in court. I spoke with organizations this week that are already preparing to fight this order if it is ever issued. I do not write about the proposed order to create fear, but so that immigrant communities and those who support immigrant rights will speak out against it.

The proposed executive order is an attack on legal immigration. All of its provisions are aimed at people who come to this country with immigrant visas and become legal permanent residents (also known as “Green Card Holders”) who require certain levels of public assistance. The proposed order contains baseless allegations that legal immigrants receive “$100 billion” in public benefits that they are not legally eligible for. Donald Trump has repeatedly made false claims that Permanent Residents are a drain on the treasury. He is catering to a misconception among his base that the budget can be balanced if fraudulent access to public benefits is cut off. The order proposes to accomplish this by denying entry, as well as denying permanent residency, to immigrants who cannot meet new, and unspecified, standards for proving financial soundness and prove they would not need to rely on public assistance.

Current immigration laws allow the Department of Homeland Security to prevent people who are “likely to become a public charge” from immigrating to the United States. This is antique language drafted in the 19th Century to exclude poor Irish people from entering the country. A “public charge” is the term used for someone sent to an almshouse. In 1996, Congress created the modern regime of “public charge” exclusion which required that the sponsors of immigrants show that they had sufficient incomes to support newly arrived immigrants. To qualify as a “sponsor,” a person has to disclose tax returns, pay stubs, and document assets. The law also excludes new immigrants who arrive in the U.S. as relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents from receiving welfare and many other means-tested benefits for at least ten years after arrival.

Since most immigrants are coming to the United States to be with their U.S. Citizen spouses, parents, and children, changing our already tough public charge requirements will only slow down the admission of immigrants and keep families apart longer. A proposal in the executive order to create penalties for sponsors will only discourage family members from stepping forward to help out lower-income immigrants.

As word of this proposed executive order has leaked, local legal rights organizations are already receiving reports of immigrants refusing food assistance for their children because they incorrectly fear that it may lead to their deportation.

A lesson of the last three weeks is that massive resistance to the new president’s executive actions on immigration is having an impact. We must maintain a high level of mobilization to combat these illegal attacks.

Read the Draft Memo on the Executive Order here.

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