President Donald Trump’s interim Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, Kenneth Cuccinelli, made waves this week when he announced the administration’s decision to institute a new “public charge rule.”

The policy, which will be instituted on October 15, will penalize those seeking to immigrate legally if they fail to verify that they won’t require financial assistance from the federal government. 

Dr. Michael Paarlberg, associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, joined the Real News Network to discuss the impact of the proposed change.

According to Paarlberg, while the public charge rule has historically been used to “severely restrict immigration,” it’s “not something that is meant to prevent people from getting legal residency, which is the first step to a path to citizenship.”

“Less than 5 percent of immigrants use the specific programs that are currently included in the public charge rule, which are TANF and SSI,” noted Paarlberg, referring to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (or “welfare”) and Supplemental Security Income.

Still, concerns remain that the policy could have a ripple effect on the immigrant community at large.

For example, survey research has shown that as a result of the rule, “immigrants will be much less likely to seek both emergency care and preventative care,” said Paarlberg. This is the basis of lawsuits brought forth by California, which alleges the rule would lead to a “public health disaster.”

It should also be noted that, despite Trump’s insistence that he is only troubled by illegal immigration, this policy is aimed at those seeking to immigrate legally.

“It really has nothing to do with stopping undocumented immigration,” said Paarlberg. “The real effect is going to be to create a climate of fear among all immigrants.”

As Paarlberg points out, “many immigrants have [mixed-status] families.” In other words, “the children might be U.S. citizens, the parents might have green cards, and some relatives might be undocumented.”

Said Paarlberg: “It’s going to make everyone scared to seek any kind of assistance, even if they qualify for it legally.”

And that is the whole point, argued Paarlberg, who added that the rule may very well be thrown out in court, but the ramifications will be felt nonetheless.

There’s also the issue of the message a policy like this sends, particularly at a time when racism and white supremacy are rampant.

“U.S. immigration law prior to 1965… was explicitly racist,” said Paarlberg. “It had quotas set by country, which were higher or lower depending on the whiteness of that country, and this is something the Trump administration has specifically harkened back to.”

Paarlberg is referring to statements Trump has made about wanting more people from places like Norway and fewer people from countries where most asylum seekers hail.

Judging by both his policy priorities and his speeches, Paarlberg noted, “Trump is clearly going all in on immigration” as his 2020 campaign strategy. The administration will claim they are interested only in stemming the influx of undocumented immigrants, “yet we see now that this is really something designed to restrict legal immigration on a selective basis — which is to say, a basis of income and race.

Listen to the full interview at the Real News Network.

Dr. Micharl Paarlberg is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

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