Supporters of President Donald Trump’s hardline policies on immigration often insist that they don’t actually have a problem with immigrants, but only oppose those who come to the U.S. illegally. But such a stance conveniently ignores the many ways in which Trump and his administration have made legal immigration to the U.S. more difficult.
White House immigration czar Ken Cuccinelli earlier this month announced that the federal government would begin denying green cards to immigrants who use public assistance, a move that drew a lawsuit from New York, Connecticut and Vermont this week. It’s part of an ongoing effort by the White House to restrict immigration to wealthier, whiter applicants, based on misguided thinking by presidential advisers from privileged backgrounds who assume that poverty is not a temporary state, but rather a permanent condition stemming from an immutable character flaw.
Two days after announcing the measure, Cuccinelli insisted that the famous Emma Lazarus poem etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty welcoming “your tired, your poor / your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” was actually “of course referring back to people coming from Europe” who “can stand on their own two feet.
“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American dream.”
It’s worth noting that Cuccinelli’s ancestors hailed from Ireland and Italy, two nations that were among the waves of European emigration to the U.S. in the 19th century as destitute people sought to escape economic hardship. Some, such as Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, came from austere lower-class families and arrived in the U.S. with no specialized training but rose through hard work and ingenuity to become titans of American industry.
Trump’s own mother, Mary Anne MacLeod, was the daughter of a humble Scottish fisherman in a subsistence farming family. She arrived in New York City uninvited in 1930 with only $50 and no discernible skills, having only attended school until eighth grade, telling authorities she would work as a “domestic.” She spent years working as a nanny and other odd jobs before becoming a citizen in 1942.
In our region, it’s easy to forget that self-made billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chenango County-based yogurt giant Chobani, wasn’t obviously destined for great success from the start. Ulukaya, a Kurd, was born into a family of dairy farmers in a small village in eastern Turkey. He moved to Long Island to attend college in his early 20s, then moved upstate to work on a farm when he noticed a closed-down Kraft foods plant for sale. With his own persistence and some funding from the Small Business Administration, Ulukaya bought the plant and became a classic rags-to-riches story. As relates to the federal budget, the money spent on immigrant assistance is a mere drop in the bucket. The Associated Press reports that just 6.5% of those participating in Medicaid and 8.8% of those on food assistance are non-citizens. Given that Trump’s fiscal policies are on track to produce a $1 trillion budget deficit next year according to the Congressional Budget Office, it’s doubtful that the green-card crackdown has anything to do with fiscal responsibility. Rather, it’s more likely that Trump is taking an opportunity to once again pander to xenophobes.
The White House’s hatred toward immigrants is not merely immoral, it’s impractical. If immigrants such as Carnegie and Ulukaya had been turned away from the U.S. for lack of means, they would have either languished in obscurity or made some other country great.