The Trump faction of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed the denial of permanent residency visas to anyone who uses certain federal assistance programs.
It’s a sanction for a problem that doesn’t exist. We will have to wait to see how it’s applied to determine how far the ruling will reach.
The court’s five conservative members, with the four liberal justices dissenting, reversed a 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals injunction that had blocked implementation of the policy until legal challenges had been resolved.
President Trump in August issued an executive order to deny green cards to any immigrant who has used government services. In reality, most immigrants traditionally don’t access most services directly; people who apply for green cards must avow that they won’t become burdens to taxpayers, and they must provide affidavits from U.S. residents who promise to support them if they can’t support themselves.
This restriction applies to most direct-cash programs, but some non-cash benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid, have been exempt in the name of public health or simple humanity. Accessing those programs now can lead to denial of a visa and deportation.
In issuing the order, Trump invoked a report from the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies that stated more than half of households headed by immigrants received some form of government aid. The president said that proved immigrants were a “public charge,” or a drain on taxpayers.
However, the CIS report included all forms of tax-funded programs, including Medicare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the free school lunch program, which comprised the bulk of benefits cited.
Countless other reports, however, show immigrants aren’t such a drain on taxpayers, and the taxes they pay exceed the benefits received. Studies show that immigrants are less likely to seek welfare benefits, and when they do they generally consume at lower levels than native-born Americans.
Children of legal residents are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), Medicare (if allowed by the state in which they live). The National School Lunch Program, Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Head Start have been allocated regardless of immigration status — until now.
It remains to be seen how the ruling will be applied. For example, in areas like the Rio Grande Valley, where general-population poverty levels place all students in the school lunch program regardless of household income, will that benefit now be used against immigrant families that have no control over the benefit? Will families forgo health programs and use emergency rooms, costing taxpayers even more money than is saved under the new order?
Only time will tell, but at first glance the ruling threatens to hurt families that contribute more than they consume, and put public health at risk by denying key benefits.
All we can hope is that this ruling, despite Supreme Court sanction, will last only as long as the current administration.