A five year ban on immigrant welfare is going to backfire, probably badly

(See update at bottom)

Another night of rallying the base produced plenty of cheers for President Trump when he returned to Iowa yesterday. And one of the loudest outbursts of support came when he made a rather incendiary proposal, seemingly out of the blue. Under a new piece of legislation he would be pushing Congress to adopt, new, legal immigrants to the United States would be ineligible for “welfare” for at least five years. (NBC News)

President Donald Trump said in a speech here Wednesday night he would soon introduce legislation that immigrants to America should not receive welfare for at least five years.

The new measure will stipulate that “those seeking admission into our country must be able to support themselves financially and should not use welfare for a period of at least five years,” Trump said as the crowd of thousands at the campaign-style rally exploded into extended applause.

The president also said that “those coming into our country must embrace our values” and he renewed calls for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, saying publicly what he reportedly had said privately to fellow lawmakers — that the wall would include solar panels.

It’s not hard to imagine why the President would toss out this particular bit of red meat to fire up certain segments of his base and it’s a theme which he brought up regularly on the campaign trail. It’s also highly problematic on a couple of fronts.

First, just to set the framework for this argument, regular readers of this site know where I stand on the various immigration issues facing the nation. I’ve been called an “immigration hawk” on more than one occasion and far worse by liberal detractors. I support building the wall, want tougher vetting of new arrivals and I believe that every single person who is in this country illegally is a criminal and merits deportation if they are identified and apprehended, even if they’re “not doing anything else wrong.” I should hope that after years of writing on the subject that much would be clear.

But I also support wisely managed, legal immigration. I’m willing to look at modernizing the quotas as to how many immigrants are approved and certainly want to see us prioritize importing the best and brightest who will contribute to the country in a positive fashion. So with all of that said, what’s my beef with this proposal? It’s a fair question.

A law such as this is going to be widely viewed (rightly or wrongly) as being flat-out anti-immigrant if not entirely racist. That’s just the reality of 21st century American politics. And that’s damaging to conservative efforts to have tougher immigration policies. We can’t go around saying we approve of people who follow the rules and lawfully enter the country to work on the legal path to productive citizenship and then turn around and say, “but we don’t want you sponging off of us while you do it.” The optics alone are a nightmare, to say nothing of the essential unfairness of it all.

Yes, we’d like to see all of our new, aspiring legal immigrants be “able to support themselves financially” and be willing to “embrace our values” as the President said in his remarks last night. Those are noble goals and shouldn’t be forgotten. But by the same token, not everyone (including our own citizens) always have a smooth ride on their individual journeys. Even if new, legal immigrants come to the country with a job lined up, sometimes people lose their jobs in a fluctuating economy. Sometimes people get sick. There are plenty of pitfalls for all of us to hopefully avoid. But if someone has come here legally with noble intentions and aspirations and they are following the rules, they may need some temporary assistance from time to time just as regular citizens do. (Please keep in mind that I’m talking about long term legal immigrants working toward citizenship here, not those on H2B style guest worker programs. If you are in that category and no longer have a job you should leave.)

Again, people who want tougher, smarter immigration laws and better border security are regularly (and wrongly) accused of being racists. Let’s not give liberal detractors an excuse to attempt to make that point even more strongly. The Center for Immigration Studies previously found that illegal immigrants are accessing public services and welfare programs far too often. That needs to stop. Legal immigrants do access benefits at a somewhat higher rate than natives according to that study, but that’s most likely due in large part to poorer levels of education and job training. We can address that issue by being smarter about who we accept in the immigration process, but once the legal, aspiring citizens are in the country we shouldn’t be treating them like lower caste human beings.

This proposed legislation is a self-inflicted wound waiting to happen. With all the other balls we’ve got up in the air at the moment, is this really the next fight we want to pick?

UPDATE: (Jazz) Seeing a lot of folks pushing back on this and referencing this article from The Hill which discusses the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). That bill deals specifically with what amount to direct cash (or cash equivalent) programs commonly cited as “welfare” during Clinton’s big welfare reform push. I’m assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that Trump is talking about the broader range of social safety net programs such as the ones listed in the CIS study I linked above. There are a variety of such programs which all fall under the more general, casual description of “welfare” in the common parlance. If Trump was talking about specific, means tested cash dispersal programs then, yes, that would be redundant legislation.