Nobody gets into the country illegally. That’s been President Donald Trump’s message to his base, and it’s been well received. Now, though, he’s adding that nobody gets into the country legally without showing that he or she can be self-supporting for the first five years. He shared this message at a recent Cedar Rapids visit, and his supporters gave raucous accent.
On the surface, it makes sense. Many taxpaying citizens are not fond of punching a time clock for 40 hours a week, just to hand over part of that paycheck to new arrivals seeking immediate government handouts.
The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 already states that immigrants are not eligible for any federal means-tested public benefit for five years after arriving in our country. If not independently wealthy, it means that many require sponsors either through an employer who promises paychecks that are sufficient enough to be self-supporting or through an individual—often a relative—who promises to provide for the immigrant financially if paychecks fall short.
But emergency medical care, public health assistance, school lunch programs and other benefits are still available to immigrants and are exceptions to the rules. And although it may take a permanent legal resident up to six years to become a naturalized citizen, the household qualifies for some assistance immediately once a child is born on U.S. soil. Lastly, the five year rule is not so awfully long. After that period, a greater number of government programs become available.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, a 2012 report showed that legal immigrant households, receiving assistance, consumed $6,378 annually in government benefits.
Nobody wants to deny lifesaving health care, and every child should have their basic needs met. But this shows that taxpayer dollars are, indeed, finding their way into the homes of immigrants.
I get what the president is after. We want to be the land of hope and opportunity, not the land of generosity that can be easily manipulated.
Six thousand dollars, though, isn’t enough to support a family. It means that immigrants are working. They’re just not earning enough to provide for their family. Unfortunately, there’s a difference between working full time and being self-supporting.
The solution to the immigration and welfare problem isn’t to limit newcomers to just those who already possess the skills, education or wealth to be completely self-sufficient upon arriving in our country. We can certainly welcome the elite immigrant, but it seems a little harsh to deny legal immigration to individuals without those advantages.
A better approach to further reduce benefits to immigrants is to increase the federal minimum wage. This is the legislation that Trump should be promoting. Small businesses can absorb a reasonable increase (not a ridiculous 100 percent increase to $15.00 as some advocate), and it would give immigrants and all workers a better chance of supporting their families without government assistance.
People will continue to legally arrive in our country and receive government benefits, no matter what Trump would like to propose. The sensible goal is to strive to keep benefits at a minimum. We’re not a country that refuses emergency medical care. And once children are born in the United States, they become citizens. A household with low wages then qualifies for assistance that not even Congress or the president can take away. Trump’s time would be better spent on solving the illegal immigration problem.
The inscription on the Statue of Liberty states, “Give me your tired, your hungry, your huddled masses…” That belief system seems to be in direct conflict or tension with attempts to allow only self-supporting immigrants or the elite into the country.
Over the years, the huddled masses have done their part to build our country and build a better future for the next generation. More want to do the same.
Trump is a self-described builder. He should recognize that same desire in others.