Should a mother try to find medicine for a sick child? What if accepting it could destroy the family’s future?

Forcing people to make agonizing decisions like that will be official U.S. policy in October when a new rule goes into effect. Families applying for permanent resident status (what’s known as a “green card”) will be penalized if they have received any government assistance such as food stamps or health care since arriving in the country.

The rule is being promoted by the Trump administration purportedly to help taxpayers, but it’s really a policy aimed at hurting immigrant families, adding to their misery to discourage them from trying to make a life here and others from following them.

President Trump may have not yet built his wall along the Mexican border, but he has done everything in his power to disrupt the nation’s immigration system. And it’s not just illegal immigration he has tried to stop, but also the legal immigration that most Americans want and say we need.

The new rule affects only legally present people who are applying for permanent residency status. These are the kind of immigrants most often cited by the administration’s supporters: They are the ones who “followed the rules” and “waited in line” to get a chance to live here. This is not a defense against illegal immigration. It’s an attack on immigration, period, and it’s just the latest in a long line of efforts to slam the door.

The war on legal immigration began in the administration’s first days when the president issued the first Muslim travel ban. Applicants from largely Muslim countries who want to enter the United States can apply for waivers on a case-by-case basis, but those waivers are granted only 2 percent of the time. According to the American Friends Service Committee, “The ban echoes some of the worst policies in immigration history.”

The administration has attacked legal immigration in other ways, like slashing the number of refugees we accept. President Trump halved the maximum number of refugees who could be admitted from 100,000 to 50,000, and actual admissions are much below the ceiling. As reported in Politico, the administration is considering dropping the number of refugees accepted for resettlement to zero.

Another legal pathway to entry is the asylum process, which has been disrupted by rules that require people seeking refuge from violence or political persecution to apply in a “safe third country.” Asylum seekers are packed in cages on the U.S. side of the border where families have been separated. These are legal immigrants who say their lives are in danger and are requesting refuge. Instead, they are treated like criminals.

Anyone who makes it through one of those processes will find an immigration bureaucracy that does not have the resources to function efficiently. The backlog of green card applications has increased by 35 percent since the end of 2017, and new regulations have slowed down the citizenship process, making it more expensive and the outcome less certain.

The new rule targets poor immigrants with what Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree called a “Sophie’s Choice,” where a parent may have to let their children go hungry if they want to maintain the status of their residency application. It is cruel and unnecessary, using the power of the United States government against people who are powerless.

But it is consistent with the other policies of this anti-immigrant administration, which no longer can claim to be opposed only to illegal immigration.

 

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