President Donald Trump upended American immigration policy with three executive orders in his first week as president. He may not be done yet.
The Washington Post obtained two draft executive orders the Trump administration is reportedly considering, both of which (in title and content) resemble documents Vox wrote about and published last week.
One order deals with work visas; the other addresses social services for legal immigrants who are already in the United States. It’s an indication that the many immigration restrictions Trump has signed are not the full scope of what key advisers have discussed. The draft dealing with legal immigrants’ use of social services could have further-reaching implications for legal immigrants currently in the US than anything the president has already signed.
Legal immigrants currently get access to some public benefits in some circumstances. But the federal government — already, under existing law — can bar someone from coming to the US, or from becoming a permanent resident, if there’s any evidence he or she will become a “public charge.”
Currently, the federal government looks at use of cash benefits (like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) when it’s making “public charge” decisions, but not in-kind benefits like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
This executive action, though — according to the draft obtained by Vox, which seems consistent with the Post’s reporting — would ask the Department of Homeland Security to issue a rule saying that an immigrant can’t be admitted to the US if he’s likely to get any benefit “determined in any way on the basis of income, resources, or financial need.”
People who use any of those benefits and are in the US on visas would be subject to deportation. And the order would even require the person who sponsored an immigrant into the US to reimburse the federal government for any benefits the immigrant used (something that the government can theoretically ask for in individual cases now, but rarely does).
This is draconian. It seeks to punish not only legal immigrants in the US and their families, but also their US-citizen relatives. It’s a reflection of a worldview in which any benefit an immigrant gets from the government is, in some way, a theft of American tax money — and punishes immigrants as thieves accordingly.
The draft order (or at least the draft obtained by Vox last week) would also seek to show this to the public, by using government reports to make the case against immigrants’ use of public services.
It would direct the government to publish regular reports on the benefits used by immigrants in the US — and how that money could be “reinvested” in the inner cities, something Trump proposed as a candidate.
One of the reports requested in the order would be a report on the cost of the entire Refugee Assistance Program — the program by which the US helps refugees get settled, obtain jobs, and learn English. Refugees are responsible for much of immigrant welfare use in the US because they’re not selected for their high earning potential — they’re selected because of their humanitarian need. But consistent with the forthcoming order restricting refugee admissions entirely, this memo sees refugees as a drain on the public coffers.
Unauthorized immigrants aren’t spared by the order: It would prevent families from getting the child tax credit if the parents are unauthorized (even if the children are US citizens), and it would prevent an unauthorized immigrant from being eligible for Social Security during the time he was unauthorized (even if he was paying into the system, as many do, using a fake Social Security number). But for the most part, this order doesn’t crack down on unauthorized immigrants to protect legal immigrants; it cracks down on immigrants, and their US citizen children, for the sake of native-born citizens.
Trump’s immigration brain trust, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, have long been animated by the belief that immigrants are a drain on America — and their use of social services is one way to demonstrate that. Whether or not this particular executive order is signed, “walling off the welfare state” from immigrants in the US may well remain in the White House’s sights.