On the 23rd day of 2017, the President of the United States of America released two draft executive orders. According to the draft of the first executive order, President Trump aims to protect taxpayer resources by ensuring U.S. immigration laws promote accountability and responsibility, which as he believes had not been ensured by previous administrations. Trump claims that households headed by either legal or illegal aliens¹ are more likely to use Federal means-tested public benefits than those headed by citizens. Therefore, his main intentions with this executive order are to promote immigrant self-sufficiency, to ensure that the United States do not welcome individuals who “may become a burden to taxpayers”, and to ensure that the campaign promises about immigration are enforced.
What is in practice supposed to happen? Well firstly, restrictions on access of programs such as SNAP² should be increased. Secondly, a reimbursement from the sponsors³ of immigrants for the Federal means-tested public benefits provided to immigrants should be obtained. Additionally, aliens who have become a public charge⁴ and are receiving “public benefits for which eligibility or amount is determined in any way on the basis of income, resources or financial need” should be deported.
What differs from previous administrations? Before, when deciding on deporting people based on having become a public charge, the Government did not take into account if the person was receiving nutritional, medical or housing benefits, allowing immediate access for families with children under 18 years old, including programs such as SNAP as it is mentioned on the Food and Nutrition Service on the United States Department of Agriculture. With the new executive order, not only many immigrant-headed families out of the 45.3%⁵ who receive food assistance may be restricted from obtaining it, but it would also be a factor to consider when deciding to deport the immigrants based on their perceived excessive dependency from the State.
These measures that are intended to save the jobs and money of the citizens will in fact affect actual citizens. According to data from the one-year ACS file on the Migration Policy Institute, in 2015 there were 17,865,689 children under 18 years old who have one or more foreign-born parents. Of all the children under 18 only 2,093,410 (3%) were not born in the U.S.A. This means that approximately 16 million children under 18 years old are actually U.S. citizens, representing 88% of all children who live with immigrant parents, which is about 1.6 times the whole Portuguese population. Furthermore, more than half of the children under 18 years old who have one or more foreign-born parents (9,363,259 children) are part of low-income families. Therefore, even if the 2,093,410 children who have immigrant parents and that are foreign-born all belonged to low-income families, which is not true, there were still 7,269,849 children (or most likely 7,269,849 future taxpayers) who are U.S. citizens that may suffer from the possible actions of the executive order.
Generally, it is not evident how long it would take to actually implement the actions ordered by the President or that they will be taken exactly as it is written. However, if they eventually are taken precisely as they are intended to, there are lots of current citizens, as it is shown before, who will suffer from it. More precisely, as George J. Borjas argues in an article he wrote, “taking the public charge provisions of immigration law seriously could potentially affect 3.7 million households”.
On the bright side, these restrictions could save the Government billions of dollars. But are all the dollars “saved” really worth the lives of others? And won’t the Government have to spend a lot more with the “others” in the future? Especially, when those others will most likely become dependent citizens if they are not provided with the right support right now as children, facilitating the opportunities for them to have a relatively stable life, in order to be efficient in school and consequently in their future jobs, allowing them to positively impact their society, and ultimately the “Greatest Nation in the World”?
¹Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or U.S. nationals.
²SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which was previously named the Food Stamp program that provides low-income individuals and families with assistance to purchase food.
³According to the Official Website of the Department of Homeland Security, the term “sponsor” often means to bring to the United States or “petition for”. Generally, relatives are the sponsors of the immigrants.
⁴ A person who is dependent on government benefits and assistance programs.
⁵According to a recent analysis by the National Academies of Sciences.
Mariana Forbes Costa