The Trump administration’s green card Catch-22

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(The Washington Post) – Starting next week, green card applicants can be denied green cards partly on the basis that they are applying for green cards.

Yes, you read that correctly.

On Monday, the Trump administration begins enforcing a new rule supposedly designed to make sure any immigrants let in are self-sufficient and not a drain on government resources. That might sound reasonable enough. The rule is based on a series of flawed premises, though, and even more flawed processes.

For instance, immigrants already pay more in taxes than they receive in federal benefits. In fact, they use fewer benefits than their native-born counterparts.

 Even those who arrive with relatively low incomes — people who might be suspected of one day becoming a burden on Uncle Sam — tend to have a steep earnings’ trajectory as they gain skills, greater English-language proficiency and professional networks. Census data and reams of academic research show that poor immigrants generally do what politicians advise them to: work hard, pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become productive members of society.

Yet the Trump administration is barreling ahead, keen to catch those imagined hordes of lazy, benefit-guzzling foreigners.

Thanks to what it calls the “public charge” rule, immigration officials are permitted to deny green cards (among other visas) if they suspect that the applicant might use government benefits someday — “at any time in the future.” Exactly what this means, or how one might make such a prediction, is frustratingly vague.  

The Trump administration admits as much: As it acknowledges in its rule, divining whether a person might, say, apply for food stamps or Medicaid in 30 years is “inherently subjective in nature.”

Immigration officials have wide discretion when making these “inherently subjective” forecasts. The rule, however, includes factors that officials are supposed to consider when assessing the “totality of the circumstances presented in an applicant’s case”: current earnings, credit score, age, education and so on.

This month, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services published additional “guidance” on implementation in its internal policy manual. It elaborated on a particular red flag.

 Among the “negative factors” it says employees should consider when assessing whether an immigrant could someday become a public charge: whether the immigrant is applying for a green card. You know, the very reason the official is evaluating the immigrant.

Now, a reasonable person might observe that people with green cards (which grant work authorization, among other perks) have more job opportunities than other immigrants. Therefore, green-card holders are probably better able to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency, the quality this administration is allegedly seeking out.

But the USCIS manual tells its officers to conclude the opposite. It says getting a green card makes an immigrant a greater risk for someday becoming a “public charge” because “they intend to reside permanently in the United States and [green-card holders] are eligible for more public benefits than” foreigners without green cards.

Because USCIS employees will have wide discretion in evaluating an applicant’s “totality of circumstances,” perhaps a generous officer might place little weight on this supposed red flag. But a venal officer could legally deny an applicant a green card because, among other things, the applicant committed the sin of applying for a green card.

Truly, it’s a policy only Joseph Heller could love.

This ludicrous, self-contradictory policy is just one of many ways the Trump administration is weaponizing the administrative state against immigrants (amongst other disfavored groups). It has engaged in a slew of backdoor policies to slash levels of lawful immigration, with neither consent nor input from Congress.

The administration has also, among other recent actions, expanded the travel ban; ratcheted down refugee admissions; increased rejection rates of skilled-worker visas; tried to place other impossible-to-meet prerequisites upon immigrants; and begun rejecting asylum applications on bogus grounds, such as leaving blank the field for “middle name” when the applicant doesn’t have a middle name.  

Still, this public charge rule is likely to have the biggest effect on levels of legal immigration as its vague criteria could designate hundreds of thousands of noncitizens as future economic burdens. This rule, together with other recent policy changes, could push down legal immigration levels by as much as 30 percent in fiscal 2021 compared with fiscal 2016 (the last year before President Trump took office), according to Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney recently acknowledged that the U.S. economy is “desperate” for more people and that “we need more immigrants” to power economic growth, according to a secret recording obtained by The Post.

He might want to tell his boss.

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