Immigration’s new ‘wealth test’ attacks the poor

February 7, 2020

The United States’ immigration system has undergone a myriad of xenophobic changes: from travel bans in Muslim majority countries to decreasing the maximum amount of refugees even allowed into the states, immigration into the U.S. is a newly treacherous territory for most refugees and immigrants. The Trump administration has inherently aimed to decrease legal immigration, while also making refugee cases nearly impossible. Policies requiring in-person interviews for employment-based immigration applications greatly slows down the immigration process, while policies requiring proof of obtaining health insurance prior to application makes visa and green card denials exponentially easier and quicker. The newest on the extraordinarily long list of immigration policies targeting Central Americans is a “wealth test” as a way to deny green card applications. 

The “public charge” condition, now to be implemented as a part of the green card application process, is a gross reminder of America’s history of marginalizing and barring the poor, which has only recently been uncovered by the Trump administration. Essentially, this decision requires that immigrants be financially self-sufficient and thus naSZot a “public charge” on the country. It mandates that immigrants prove they will not rely on public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance. Upon first glance, the “wealth test” is very clearly a classist policy seeking to greatly reduce the amount of immigrants granted green cards. Additionally, the policy subliminally and inappropriately targets Central Americans as these immigrants tend to be fleeing poverty and violence within their home countries and thus rarely are able to meet the financial proof requirements newly stated by the Trump administration. The Supreme Court decision on Jan. 27, 2019 to allow for the implementation of the “wealth test” is merely the U.S.’ way of informing immigrants that, contrary to the Statue of Liberty doctrine, “we will not accept the poor.” 

The criteria of the “wealth test” newly defines what being a public charge is as well as the factors that can characterize one as such. Negative factors include whether an immigrant is unemployed, high school as the level of their highest education, and their lack of fluency of English. All of which are common among Central American immigrants migrating to the U.S. for economic and societal reasons. Evidently, the policy specifically seeks to establish prior monetary success and the language of English as prerequisites to being a citizen of the U.S., thus revealing itself to be classist, bigoted and blatantly anti-immigrant. The message sent is contrary to America’s utmost principles of being a state for social mobility and the pursuit of happiness, as we legalize policies that effectively state a marginalization and denial of poor immigrants as a contributor to our country. 

Adverse effects of the “public charge” condition include the creation of the notion that immigrants hoping to establish roots within the U.S. will never be able to view social safety nets as an actual avenue in their quests for stability and prosperity. Many of the government programs including Medicaid and Social Security serve as a social mobility function which lower classes can use in order to best accumulate wealth and lower spending costs. The “wealth test,” however, discourages poor immigrants from seeking help from temporary aid programs, effectively barring them from seeking citizenship in the U.S. on account of their “potential” reliance on government assistance. This pushes current and future immigrants into a cycle of poverty out of fear of the government. 

The Trump administration revised the “public charge” criteria to include government benefits used in any 12 months in a 36-month period as reason for characterization, thus placing a substantial number of immigrants in a position of probable green card denial. Not only will this unreasonably and greatly reduce the amount of immigrants legally eligible for green cards, but it also discourages immigrants who are considering using government assistance. Government assistance that could have provided safety and security to immigrants now forms part of the system which could bar them from even achieving status as legal residents within the country they are seeking refuge. 

It is abundantly clear that the intent of the “wealth test” was not to create organization and structure within the complex immigration system, but rather to fortify barriers against current immigrants seeking citizenship and to re-establish a notion of xenophobia against Central Americans while incorporating ideas of classism and white supremacy. The fact that the five conservative justices of the United States Supreme Court voted to approve such a policy that targets the poor and disenfranchised from creating ties within the U.S. furthers the detrimental anti-immigrant climate that the Trump administration has been pushing for for three years. We must vehemently oppose this administration so as to preserve the importance of immigrant contributions as the foundation of our nation.

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