The White House announced a policy change that should concern us all. The modification is unprecedented in targeting legal immigrants, and has a number of potentially devastating consequences.
It will expand the definition of what it means to be a “public charge” for legal immigrants applying for permanent residency. In practice, immigrants with a household income of less than 250% of the federal poverty guideline, or $64,375 for a family of four, may be unable to get green cards. Use of a public assistance program, or likely future use of a public assistance program, may also disqualify an applicant.
Immigrants are an integral part of the Kansas economy. Over 7 percent of Kansans are immigrants, but they may be up 10 percent of the Kansas workforce. Most of these immigrants came to the United States legally. Kansas immigrants represent 18 percent of manufacturing workers in our state, 15 percent of construction workers and 10 percent of information systems professionals, according to the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
Immigrant-led households in Kansas have an estimated $3.8 billion in spending power, contributing billions in taxes and spending to the Kansas economy.
Most of these workers fall well short of earning $64,000 a year.
As a group, Kansas immigrants make significant economic contributions to our state, but like citizens, immigrant families trapped in low-wage jobs or going through difficult times may need help from social service programs. The reinterpretation of the “public charge” rule would make it extremely difficult for these Kansans to get the help they need.
In the midst of debate over how to address illegal immigration, it is unfortunate that legal immigrants are getting caught in policy crossfire. People living outside the United States may apply for permanent residency in certain situations, but many legal immigrants come to the United States with temporary visas, granted to allow them to live with family, work or attend school in the United States. If people with temporary visas wish to live in the United States permanently, they find themselves in the long and highly complex process to qualify for permanent residency, or a green card. These residents are eligible for some public services and may use public assistance programs, just as U.S. citizens do, to get the support they need to work toward financial independence for themselves and their children.
The new guidelines would make it impossible for these hard-working, but low-income immigrants to qualify for permanent legal residency.
The consequences of the policy are concerning. Deterring low-income immigrants from using public services, some of which are designed to help their children access nutritious food and health care, is not compassionate or practical. Advocates have also expressed reservations that many permanent residents may also dis-enroll or forgo public services out of confusion, even if the policy is unlikely to impact their immigration status.
The policy would almost certainly change the face of U.S. immigration, strongly favoring high-income applicants, and making legal immigration all but impossible for most of the global population.
The immigration debate is undoubtedly complex, but people who followed our complex web of laws to come here should not be punished for needing a hand. Families who come from abroad to make their homes and become our neighbors here in Kansas should have the support they need to build a better life.