What’s Behind Trump’s Call for Banning Immigrants from Welfare for 5 Years?

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore

Last night at a rally in Iowa, President Donald Trump promised that he would ban new immigrants from welfare for the first five years after they arrive. I could definitely support that, given that most immigrants are banned from Federal Needs-Based Assistance (Welfare) for at least ten years after they arrive. Trump’s plan would actually shorten the waiting period by five years!

If the current waiting period for 75% of immigrants is ten years, then why did the president propose “extending” it to five? There are several possible answers.

The first, and perhaps most likely, is that Trump is just ignorant of the facts. He seems to get most of his information on immigration from Alt-Right websites that push out ignorant lies about about immigration on a daily basis. Perhaps he is just repeating what he saw in a Tweet from the denizens of the Daily Stormer.

A second possibility assumes that Trump’s announcement is more calculated. Maybe Trump knows the truth, but he just wants to press some white Iowans’ political buttons. Trump’s supporters last night broke into chants of “Build The Wall” every time his hour-long speech started to drag. He played to the crowd by announcing that The Wall will now be solar powered, which drew cheers. Trump knows that his supporters have almost no knowledge of immigration law and policy, but that they feel that the America that they beleive that they once owned has been stolen from them by non-white immigrants. Among this sub-group of his supporters, their perceived decline in their standard of living and prestige can be directly blamed on immigrants and anything that is said that would hurt these immigrants satisfies a need for revenge.

Trump also knows that a lot of his supporters get their “facts” on immigration from the same disreputable Tweets and memes that he relies on for policy analysis. These supporters absorb the logically contradictory notions that “immigrants are stealing our jobs” and that “immigrants are lazy and they are all on welfare.” In my encounters with Trump supporters, I often hear the claim that immigrants somehow have special Federal benefits that are not available to the native-born. This is nonsense, but it is widely believed among millions of Breitbart consumers. So, the third possibility is that Trump is using the Alternative Facts that his supporters already believe in to reinforce their beliefs. They support him more because he reinforces the lies that they already believe to be facts.

The final possibility is that Trump is seeking to eradicate state and local programs that support immigrants who fall on hard times. Ordinarily Republicans eschew this sort of an assault on Federalism and states’ rights. Trump, however, has shown no reluctance to step over the line and go after the states to get them to conform to his will. So far the courts have blocked him at every turn, but the assaults continue.