Opinion

MEHLMAN: Coronavirus Is The Newest Excuse For Attacking Immigration Rules

Ira Mehlman Media Director, FAIR
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Immigrants seem to be something of a paradox, as described by mass immigration enthusiasts.

Immigrants are plucky risk-takers, who are willing to brave hardship and lay it all on the line to start afresh in a new country. Those are the sorts of people we can never have enough of, argue those who support large-scale immigration and forgiveness for those who immigrate illegally.

Immigrants are fearful and live in the shadows, mistrustful of government, and may run for cover at the merest suggestion that our immigration laws might be enforced. We need to be extra careful not to say or do anything that might spook them, argue those very same advocates.

So which is it? The answer, of course, is it all depends.

When there is an effort afoot to push for still greater levels of immigration and amnesty for the millions of illegal aliens already here, immigrants are intrepid go-getters who are generally more entrepreneurial and harder working than the rest of us.

When there are efforts being made, such as now, to ensure that immigrants play by the rules and that they honor their commitments to being self-sufficient, immigrants are so skittish that even explicit policy statements from the government assuring them that they will not be penalized for accessing certain public benefits and services are insufficient to put them at ease.

When the Trump administration announced new, more realistic rules defining what it means for an immigrant to be a public charge — someone who becomes a user of taxpayer-provided social services like welfare or free housing — the advocates for mass immigration cried foul. As has been the case in every instance in which any administration, particularly the current one, has attempted to enforce immigration laws in the public interests, the mass immigration advocacy network went to court to try to stop it. In most cases they have lost, and their efforts to block implementation of the Trump administration’s public charge rules were no exception. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, without ruling on the merits of the lawsuit, lifted injunctions and allowed the new public charge rules to be implemented.

Then came COVID-19. Exercising basic common sense and human decency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued an explicit directive making it clear that no immigrant seeking medical services as a result of the pandemic would be penalized for doing so. The rule “does not restrict access to testing, screening, or treatment of communicable diseases, including COVID-19,” stated USCIS. The agency also made it clear that using a variety of other public benefits amid the crisis would not harm noncitizens’ chances of qualifying for green cards.

But even those very clear assurances on the part of the agency that determines eligibility for immigration benefits were not sufficient to deter advocates bent on using the national health crisis to their political advantage. “Such assurances are unlikely to dissuade immigrants from seeking help, with potentially dire consequences for our nation’s public health,” warned Kathryn Pitkin Derose, of the RAND Corporation. Why, exactly, she did not explain.

In the name of promoting a political agenda, even a national health crisis is fair game. If it takes depicting immigrants as personally and socially irresponsible, and American society as being both cruel and short-sighted, in order to derail immigration rules that under less extenuating circumstances make perfect sense, then that is where the mass immigration advocates are prepared to take it. 

The truth is that neither of the paradoxical portrayals of immigrants as a group are remotely accurate. Immigrants, for the most part, are people who make rational decisions based on circumstances that present themselves, and who are perfectly capable of understanding clear government policy statements. 

The American people and their government are also capable of making rational policy decisions. Under normal circumstances it makes perfect sense to exclude immigrants who are likely to rely on public assistance. Under extraordinary circumstances, when people’s lives and public health and safety are at stake, it makes perfect sense to waive some rules temporarily.

As we work to overcome the health and economic crises facing the nation, the last thing we need are politically motivated efforts designed to create fear and mistrust where they should not exist.

Ira Mehlman is media director for Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).