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Too Poor? Stay Out of Trump’s America

Statue of Liberty

On Monday, the Trump administration announced its plans to curb legal immigration by targeting applicants who rely on public assistance programs. The new policy will favor migrants of means, by placing all applicants under an ‘aggressive wealth test,’ essentially denying poor immigrants access to green cards.

According to the Migration Policy Institute the trends of immigration have been in constant flux, particularly over the course of the last 17 years. In fact, the data shows that by 2017 there were fewer Mexican immigrants in the US than in 2010, the largest decline among all groups. It also revealed that within that same time frame, there has been an increase in “migration from Asia, with India and China leading the way,” and a significant jump in migrants from the “Dominican Republic, the Philippines, Cuba, El Salvador, and Venezuela.”

In an effort to halt these trends, President Trump is now pushing public policy that tells immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees who may rely on federal programs to gain their footing once in the country, that they are less likely to be considered for lawful permanent residence. The people arriving from the most impoverished nations in Africa, Central America and the Caribbean are getting the message: They are not wanted.

By Tuesday, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, was trending on Twitter:

Cuccinelli went on to say that The New Colossus poem, originally written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to help fundraise for the Statue of Liberty, and emblazoned on the bronze plaque that was installed later in 1903 at its base, was placed there during the time of the passing of the first public charge law. “Very interesting timing,” he said. However, the two are not correlated.

The backlash from the statements were immediate. The Washington Post reported that history scholars spoke out against the consequences of playing with the language of the poem, and chastised Cuccinelli for not providing context surrounding his ‘classes’ comments during an interview with CNN.

Additionally, in a powerful op-ed for the Washington Post, Hidetaka Hirota, author of “Expelling the Poor,” wrote:

The Immigration Act of 1882 denied entry to any “convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” The provision is rooted in colonial-era “poor laws,” in which states like Massachusetts could deny entry to or deport poor or disabled people.

Hidetaka Hirota

In the wake of the tragic massacres in El Paso, TX, and Dayton, OH, as well as the massive ICE raids in Mississippi, the Trump administration is doubling down on its messaging. It is sending dog whistles to its base, while telling the immigrant community who is and isn’t worthy of being considered admissible. Quotas have long been used to abuse and manipulate migrants. Punishing them for being poor is no different. It’s one of the many ways the federal government further exposes itself as not just favoring whiteness, but shows the lengths to which it’s willing to hide its blatant racism by placing us all on a scale of good, better, best.

The torch on the Statue of Liberty has long been put out, and the ideals instilled within The New Colossus appear to be rendered hollow, empty. Perhaps, one day, we will look back and ask ourselves where we were when it was time “to make America compassionate.” Not again, but to start.


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