Since coming to office, President Trump has waged an all-out assault on America’s immigrant tradition. From separating children at the border to seizing parents in school parking lots to conditioning visas on the ability to pay for health care, the president has made a policy of cruelty. The administration’s “public charge” rule, however, reaches a new low.
This week, the administration planned to enact a rule to make legal immigrants – including those on student and work visas – ineligible for permanent residence if they use certain safety net programs. The idea is to drive lower-income immigrants from our country by making them choose between securing their legal status, on the one hand, and enrolling in public assistance, on the other. By design, it is an impossible choice.
While a temporary injunction blocking the rule is now in place, our immigrant communities still face uncertainty.
In Colorado and across the country, immigrant parents will continue to wonder if taking their kids to the doctor, or enrolling them in a school lunch program, means their family will have to separate down the road.
The policy is as shortsighted as it is cruel. As immigrants forgo vaccines, check-ups and other preventive care, significant public health challenges are sure to follow. More families will avoid housing support, even as winter approaches. Inevitably, it will fall to local communities, which are already stretched thin, to bear the burden of increased emergency room visits, uncompensated care and rising homelessness. For politics, the administration has put our communities in the crosshairs.
The new rule has already done damage. In Southwest Colorado, we have seen a drop-off in the enrollment and use of services like Medicaid, nutrition assistance and housing support, which are critical for keeping families healthy and safe. Confusion and fear about the rule have also led many legal immigrants to drop family members from these services, including U.S. citizens, out of the mistaken belief that it will jeopardize their status.
If implemented, the rule could cause even greater harm. According to the Colorado Health Institute, it could cause 75,000 Coloradans to lose their insurance, most of whom are U.S. citizens and children. Our local clinics and hospitals will inevitably fill the gaps, pushing their already tight budgets to the brink. The Colorado Fiscal Institute found that the rule could cost our state nearly $300 million and over 2,000 jobs.
Our schools will also bear the cost. Confusion about the new rule will likely cause parents not enroll their kids in free or reduced lunch, depriving them of the square meals they need to learn and thrive. To make sure kids don’t go hungry, our local schools and nonprofits will have to work overtime, diverting precious time and resources to enroll eligible families. As more students go without health care, higher absences and lower outcomes are almost certain. To appease its far-right political base, the Trump administration will harm our children’s future.
To make matters worse, the entire rationale for the administration’s new rule rests on fiction. The rule proceeds from the assumption that immigrants are somehow a burden to America, when the evidence says just the opposite. Nationwide, low-income immigrants are less likely to require public benefits than low-income U.S. citizens. Over 91% of working-age adults affected by the rule have jobs, and if they were forced to leave, it would cost the national economy $164 billion. In Colorado alone, immigrants employ over 100,000 people and pay over $4 billion in taxes. They are one in 10 of our STEM workers and more than one in three of our carpenters, construction workers and cleaners. In other words, in Colorado and across the country, immigrants contribute far more than they cost in public services.
In the end, the real cost of the administration’s policies is to our character as a nation. There is a reason the Statue of Liberty reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, / your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I left my lamp beside the golden door!”
The story of America is a story of immigrants – of people from every class and creed striving together for greater opportunity. Colorado will honor that noble tradition – in spirit and deed – even as Washington disgraces it.
Michael Bennet is a U.S. senator from Colorado.