Earlier today, Monday August 12, the Trump administration announced a new rule which would significantly curb legal immigration. This comes only 10 days after a terrorist gunned down 22 people in an El Paso Wal-Mart in response to what he considered an “invasion” of his country and less than a week after Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted a devastating raid on Mississippi poultry plants, taking into custody 680 undocumented individuals, leaving their children stranded and alone.
While experts acknowledge that this rule change has been a long time in the making (the administration tried to push it through Congress via the RAISE Act in 2017, and preliminary documents for the rule change leaked last October), the timing is nonetheless brutal.
Since he first announced his candidacy for president in 2015, Donald Trump has had an almost singular focus on immigration and has painted it in a negative light, to say the least — with a clear focus on poor people of color. He started his campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and has promised to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it; he has also called undocumented individuals and asylum seekers at the southern border an “invasion.” And though he has spent most of his time harping on undocumented workers at the southern border in an August 2016 speech, he did also promise to hit legal immigration as well — telling an audience in Phoenix, “We will reform legal immigration to serve the best interests of America and its workers, the forgotten people. Workers. We’re going to take care of our workers.”
So what exactly is the Trump administration trying to do to legal immigration? We break it down.
What is the Trump administration proposing?
Acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli announced this morning that USCIS (which is part of the Department of Homeland Security) is releasing a rule defining what a “public charge” is in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) — the chief immigration law of the land. The phrase, in general, means anyone who relies on public resources. So Trump, by broadening this definition, is able to shape who we accept as immigrants in a significant way.
There are exemptions, including for asylum seekers and refugees. Per the order, “The rule also does not apply to aliens whom Congress exempted from the public charge ground of inadmissibility (such as asylees, refugees, or other vulnerable populations listed as exempt in this final rule).”
The order will also allow the DHS to “consider the receipt of public benefits, as defined in this rule, by certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families; certain international adoptees; and receipt of Medicaid in certain contexts, especially by aliens under the age of 21, pregnant women (and women for up to 60 days after giving birth), and for certain services funded by Medicaid under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or in a school setting.” In other words: special attention (and possibly, exemptions) will be granted to vulnerable individuals and service members and their families.
That said, paired with the Trump administration’s recent executive order which “reject[s] any asylum seekers who had passed through a third country (trying to prevent Central Americans coming up through Mexico from applying for asylum)” the outlook for the most vulnerable people trying to come to the U.S. is looking bleak, and according to the DHS, the rule is expected to impact at least 383,000 people.