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Opinion
Noah Smith

Trump Is Coming for Green Card Holders

Lots of immigrants will risk being expelled if they seek government aid of almost any sort. 

This immigrant came to America dead broke. He started the company that became U.S. Steel.

This immigrant came to America dead broke. He started the company that became U.S. Steel.

Photographer: Buyenlarge/Archive Photos/Getty Images

You can now safely dismiss any supporters of Donald Trump who tell you that the president’s crusade against immigration is only directed at the illegal variety. In a recent proposed rule change, Trump would bar legal immigrants who use a variety of government benefits from obtaining green cards or renewing their visas. The rule, if passed, and if it holds up in court, would translate into a huge reduction in legal immigration to the U.S. — all without requiring any act of Congress.

In order to get a green card or many types of visas, immigrants now have to show that they are “not likely to become a public charge,” according to a law that has been on the books since 1882. Since 1999, a public charge has been defined as someone who is primarily dependent on cash assistance, such as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Of course, the government doesn’t know who will eventually need welfare, so it uses a variety of indicators to make a decision about each prospective immigrant. In recent years, only about 3 percent of applicants have been turned away under this rule.