Excluding ‘Public Charges’ Is Our Heritage

The Quote Below: More Misinformation from the Media

“President Trump’s action this week to restrict legal immigration by people who might need public assistance in the future is a rejection of our proud heritage as a nation of immigrants and has the effect of erasing the beautiful and welcoming words on the Statue of Liberty. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore,’ Lady Liberty beckons in a poem on the statue’s pedestal. ‘Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’  . . .

“My hope is that legal challenges will keep the new rule from taking effect. It stands in opposition to everything America stands for, and turns our proud status as a magnet for immigrants from around the world on its head. . . .

“I understand the debate over immigrants coming here without legal authorization. But there should be no debate about legal immigration. . . .

“America didn’t become great in spite of immigrants – it became great because of them. And unless you’re a Native American, you too have immigrant roots. Want to see the result of legal immigration? Just look in the mirror. – Trump Restrictions on Legal Immigration Betray America’s Heritage, Leslie Marshall, Fox News, 8/15/19 [Link]

Fact Check of Quote: Since when does a poem carry more weight and authority than our Constitution, our enacted laws—and even simple common sense? The simple reality is that the United States is not a divine entity with supernatural power to save all the “wretched refuse” and “tempest tossed” of the world. We are an earthly country with limited means to help others. This is why—contrary to the author’s assertion—that we must have debate about legal immigration, specifically how much legal immigration we can have before we burden our own citizens.

Today, despite some recent economic gains, the U.S. faces significant problems. The middle class is   shrinking, having declined from 61 percent of the population in 1971 to 50 percent in 2015. During that same period, people in the lowest economic bracket rose from 16 percent to 20 percent. The alleged low level of unemployment today hides the fact that many unemployed people are not counted as unemployed, and many who are employed work at low-wage jobs—or are unable to find full-time employment. In many of our big cities we see growing numbers of homeless people.

Given this situation, it makes sense that we don’t admit foreigners who will take public assistance that our citizens need. This simple common sense—contrary to the author’s claim—is very much a part of our history and heritage. Even before American independence, states passed laws to exclude “paupers.” At the federal level, the immigration act of 1882 excluded people likely to become “public charges,” even though public assistance in those days was quite limited.

Thus in the days of immigration to Ellis Island, celebrated in the Emma Lazurus poem, people were turned back under the “public charge” rule. Thereafter, the public charge rule remained on the books, but increasingly it was seldom enforced. During that time American developed into a full-blown welfare state with numerous programs of public assistance. Following that time, the U.S. began a new cycle of mass immigration. Today immigrant households receive public assistance at a much higher rate than native-born Americans. This is the situation that the Trump Administration is trying to correct. We can’t afford to be a magnet to indigent people from around the globe. As the economist Milton Friedman pointed out so well, “It’s just obvious that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state. If America doesn’t stand for the wellbeing of her own citizens before others, she stands for nothing.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t admit some low-income people. But they should pay their own way. Enforcing the public charge law might actually help them do that. If immigrants didn’t get welfare, the companies that want them as workers would have to start paying them a living wage. As the situation stands now, these businesses get cheap labor, subsidized by taxpayers who foot the bill for immigrants’ welfare.

The author also repeats the tiresome claim that immigrants by themselves made America great. This is not historically accurate. America was initially built by settlers, not immigrants. An immigrant is one who moves from one developed country to another. A settler is one who builds a country from scratch.

America was not the creation of “native Americans.” i.e., American Indians. They were Iroquois, Shawnee, Cherokee, Sioux, Cheyenne, Apache, Navajo and many other tribal groupings. None of them considered themselves American. That name and identity came from European settlers, most of whom came from the British Isles and other parts of Northwestern Europe.


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