Legal immigrants may need a helping hand to start a new life. That’s not a handout. It’s an investment.
Many legal immigrants to this country have already run a gauntlet just getting here.
Many start out at the bottom, taking low-paid jobs as they slowly re-establish themselves in a new land. Like the generations of immigrants before them, they sometimes require a little help. In the past, the U.S. has taken a fairly generous view of that situation. There is a long-standing rule that immigrants cannot become “public charges” who will wind up living off the largesse of taxpayers. Those labeled as such can be denied entry or, if already here, turned down for permanent residency, which closes off citizenship.
That has been a good and rarely applied rule, affecting perhaps 3 percent of legal noncitizens. Now that may change dramatically, with cruel consequences for the immigrants, this state and the country. In its zeal to limit migration of all kinds to the U.S., the Trump administration would apply a far stricter interpretation of the public-charge rule, taking in almost all types of government assistance not just for the immigrant but for their immediate families.
The Migration Policy Institute projects that 47 percent of legal noncitizens could risk being labeled public charges simply for obtaining housing assistance, help paying winter heating bills, nutritional aid for pregnant women — even for filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit. In a particularly inhumane stroke, legal immigrants who qualify for subsidies to help purchase health care would have a strike against them for actually doing so.
This is a shortsighted and cruel policy change. The majority of legal immigrants come to this country to work. The green card, which establishes permanent residency, is vital to building a stable new life. Without it, work in the U.S. can become problematic, dependent on specific visas and employer petitions. Those who get sick will simply add to the rolls of uncompensated care.
The rule change, which does not need to go through Congress, has not yet been published in the federal register for public review. But it has already started to spread fear among those who followed the law to come to Minnesota. Public health nurses are already seeing families who want to pull their U.S.-born children out of health care and nutrition programs, worried that their participation could lead to a negative review, said John Keller, of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
For the more practical-minded, we note that while legal immigrants may need a little help as they settle in, they offer a solid return on investment. Immigrants make up 1 in 10 workers in Minnesota, helping to fill an acute labor shortage. Many are better educated and contribute more than you might imagine.
According to the American Immigration Council, immigrant-led households in Minnesota pay at least $2.2 billion in federal taxes and more than $1 billion in state and local taxes. Their spending adds $9 billion to the economy. The stores and businesses they start add half a billion dollars. More than half have some college, and a third have their college degree.
As immigrants move up the economic ladder, this state — and this country — greatly benefit from their presence.