PAY TO STAY: New Trump Policy Threatens Caribbean Immigrants

Author  GORDON WILLIAMS

Opportunity for millions of lower income immigrants to live legally in the United States, including thousands from the Caribbean, is facing a fresh threat from the administration of President Donald Trump.

wealth test However, Caribbean nationals are already meeting many of the so-called “wealth test” standards the U.S. government plans to implement next month, if they want to become citizens or permanent residents, according to a recent study.

Meanwhile, the new rule is facing public backlash, with local government and civil rights organizations lining up to contest it in U.S. courts,  lawmakers with Caribbean roots bashing it as another attack by Trump on immigrants, particularly those of color, and even Caribbean nations expressing concern.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), announced last month that the financial status of immigrants will become a key component to help determine if they receive permanent residence or “green cards” and American citizenship, even if they already live in the U.S.

The “public charge” clause, according to Cuccinelli, is to ensure immigrants are not a burden on the government. Among the requirements are that immigrants speak English proficiently and don’t seek government assistance, including food stamps, housing subsidies and health care help.

“We certainly expect people of any income to stand on their own two feet,” Cuccinelli told the media in announcing the policy.

“And so, if people are not able to be self sufficient, then this negative factor is gonna bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident.”

BACKLASH

Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to access federal benefits, but the Trump administration insisted the new rule will“promote immigrant success,” according to Cuccinelli.

The rule has Trump’s full backing.

“I don’t think it is fair to have the American taxpayer pay for people who come into the United States,” the president told reporters.

However, Cuccinelli’s announcement drew immediate criticism, including from the Caribbean American community. U.S. Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, whose parents are from Jamaica, told Caribbean Media Corporation that “the public charge rule means law-abiding immigrants will be put in an impossible position, having to forfeit health care, nutrition and housing programs in order to get a green card or receive other lawful status.”

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, whose father is from Jamaica, also condemned the rule as another in Trump’s series of attacks on immigrants.

“It’s just an ongoing campaign of his (Trump’s) to vilify a whole group of people,” Harris said on CNN. “He is criminalizing innocent people, he is locking babies up in cages, he has a policy of separating children from their parents in the name of border security.”

DEROGATORY

In the past Trump has made derogatory remarks about nations with populations dominated by people of color. He reportedly called Haiti, for example, a “shit hole” country. He promoted a ban against nationals from certain Muslim-majority countries and called Mexicans “rapists” and “criminals.” Trump also told four U.S. congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from although all are American citizens and three were born in the U.S.

Several states challenged the new public charge rule in court within days of its announcement. Other agencies have expressed interest in doing so as well.

Caribbean nations have also chimed in, claiming the new rule could have adverse effects for the region.EP Chet Greene, Antigua and Barbuda’s immigration and foreign affairs minister, warned that his nation is bracing for possible negative fallout, including criminals being sent back to the country.

“If (the rule) goes forward, I mean you could be surprised to see the wave of returnees to these parts, as persons are forced out, because that’s the effect of it,” Greene told state-owned ABS Television and Radio. “… It forces you out of the system.”

IN POSITION

Yet, according to a study published in February by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Caribbean nationals may be among the best placed immigrants capable of meeting the public charge standards.

MPI reported that, as of 2017, some 4.4 million Caribbean nationals were living in the U.S., 10 percent of the 44.5 million total immigrants. However, MPI added: “Compared to the total foreign-born population, Caribbean immigrants are less likely to be Limited English Proficient (LEP), have lower educational attainment and income, and have higher poverty rates.”

Caribbean nationals have also shown they are willing to work to support themselves as much as people from any region, including those born in the U.S.

“Caribbean immigrants participate in the labor force at the same rate as the overall foreign-born population,” MPI noted, although the compensation they receive has fallen behind other immigrants.

Meanwhile, Caribbean immigrants in the U.S. are also “much more likely to be (health) insured than the overall foreign-born population,” another indication they are less likely to be a burden to the U.S. government.

Overall, immigrants have made a significant contribution to U.S. financial coffers as well. At least one report indicated that immigrants paid more than $400 billion in taxes in 2017.

Meanwhile, critics have chastised Trump’s latest rule as lacking compassion.

“Where our ‘leader’s’ heart is supposed to be, is instead filled with hatred, bigotry and xenophobia,”Clarke told CMC.

“Trump’s lackeys have followed his savage direction with such a cold disregard for brown and black people.”

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