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Trump admin caught plotting to withhold food and housing from kids to punish parents

The Trump administration’s latest attack on immigration puts American children squarely in the crosshairs.

By Caroline Orr - February 08, 2018
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Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Donald Trump

While the White House publicly claims that its crackdown on immigration primarily targets criminals and gang members, a new report reveals a very different scenario going on behind the scenes.

According to Reuters, the Trump administration has drafted a new set of rules that would let them punish immigrant parents if they use public benefits such as CHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance Program), SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), WIC (nutrition assistance for women, infants, and children), and the early education program known as Head Start.

Receiving, or even being likely to receive, any such government assistance could be used to deny a potential immigrant’s application to come to the U.S. or stay in the country — even if the benefits were used by an immigrant’s U.S. citizen children.

While immigrants, including those who are here lawfully, are restricted in terms of what benefits they can receive, some are eligible for specific programs like food assistance and health care for children.

The new rules, which are a major change from the current policy that has been in place for nearly two decades, would apply to “a wide range of people living or working in the United States, including close family members of U.S. citizens and workers employed by U.S. companies,” Reuters reports. They could also apply to immigrants living abroad who gain citizenship through the State Department.

Based on 2016 figures, Reuters estimates that, on an annual basis, anywhere from 383,000 to more than 1,000,000 people could be subjected to the new rules when applying for permanent residence in the U.S.

If the new rules are implemented as drafted, low-income or less well-educated immigrants could be denied entry through family reunification channels based on their potential to use government programs. And people living in the U.S. — including those married to U.S. citizens, as well as parents of U.S. citizen children — could be denied residence and deported if they have used government programs or are deemed likely to use them in the future, even if the benefits went to their kids.

The result is that the U.S. immigration system could be moved toward a selection system that favors highly educated, higher-income immigrants and closes the door on those with existing family relationships in America.

According to Reuters, the Trump administration is concerned that the availability of public benefits could incentivize immigration to the U.S. — an ironic concern, given Trump’s recent comments about wanting to accept more immigrants from countries like Norway, which has one of the world’s most robust welfare systems.

Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, told Reuters that any new immigration policies would be designed “to protect the American taxpayer.” But under the draft rules, DHS would be tasked with sorting through a wide range of personal and government data to evaluate a person’s history of and potential to use government services — a painstaking and costly process that would create an entirely new taxpayer burden.

As is the case with many of the immigration policies proposed by the Trump administration, it’s clear that the new draft rules are designed to focus public attention on the costs, but not the benefits, of immigrants to U.S. society. Despite what Trump claims, however, eligible immigrants are actually less likely to use public benefits than eligible U.S. citizens.

According to a 2013 report by the Libertarian think tank Cato Institute, “low-income non-citizen adults and children generally have lower rates of public benefit use than native-born adults or citizen children whose parents are also citizens.” Far from being a “drain on the system,” immigrants actually pay more into the system than they take out of it.

By using children — many of whom are U.S. citizens — as a means of punishing immigrant parents, the Trump administration is imperiling the wellbeing of kids and families. If the new rules are implemented as written, many parents would likely stop using the programs that are targeted — many of which are explicitly designed to address the health and social needs of young children.

“It’s going to scare a lot of people into yanking their children off of needed healthcare, school programs, child nutrition programs, basic sorts of subsistence-level programs that have kept the population healthy and employable,” Charles Wheeler, director of training and legal support at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., told Reuters.

While they claim to be going after violent criminals, the Trump administration is actually putting the most vulnerable members of our society squarely in the crosshairs.


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