How a wealth test for immigrants could affect the U.S. economy – PBS NewsHour

Both supporters and opponents of a new Trump administration rule that creates additional barriers for immigrants trying to enter the U.S. or trying to gain legal permanent residency are using economic arguments to make their cases.

The so-called “public charge” rule bars immigrants from coming to the U.S., claiming that if they are deemed to be unable to support themselves financially, they are at risk of needing federal safety net benefits–or becoming a “public charge” of the federal government. It also penalizes immigrants living in the U.S. who are trying to become lawful permanent residents, if they use federal safety net programs.

The rule is being challenged in court, but the U.S. Supreme Court this week allowed the change to go into effect and become enforceable while it makes its way through the judicial system.

Under the new guidance, immigrants who use a public benefit for more than 12 months in a 36-month period would be penalized in their application to become a legal permanent resident– commonly known as a green card holder. Each individual benefit counts toward the total time, so using both food and housing assistance for one month, for example, could count as two months worth of benefits.

If the household income of an immigrant trying to come to the U.S. is less than 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, or $21,550 for a couple, they could also be at risk of being denied entry. The Department of Homeland Security said it would use that threshold as one of several factors when deciding whether to admit an immigrant to the U.S. Immigrants with twice that income, or 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, would be given higher preference.

Refugees are exempt from the rule.

The White House has argued the rule, which some are calling a “wealth test,” will benefit American workers and save taxpayer dollars. Immigration advocates counter that it is creating an unnecessary barrier for hardworking immigrants trying to better their lives and who contribute to the U.S. economy.

Meanwhile, economists caution that it’s difficult to estimate the exact cost or savings from the rule because it depends on how strictly it is enforced and there could be numerous ripple effects that will reverberate throughout the economy for years. It is also unclear what the cost would be for enforcing the rule, or for checking on immigrants’ household income before coming to the U.S.

Who uses federal assistance

On the whole, immigrants make up a small share of all Americans who use federal public assistance programs. U.S-born individuals, for example, make up 86 percent of both Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, recipients.

Immigrants also use less total welfare and entitlement benefits in dollar value than native-born Americans, according to a report from the CATO Institute, a libertarian think-tank.

In total, native-born Americans used $6,976 worth of welfare programs per person in 2016. That’s compared to $5,535 per immigrants–a 21 percent difference.

The discrepancy is largely due to a higher rate of native-born Americans using Medicare and Social Security benefits than immigrants. About 18 percent and 19 percent of native-born Americans use Medicare and Social Security benefits, respectively. That’s compared to 12 percent and 14 percent of immigrants.

Native-born Americans are also more likely to use the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); and SNAP, which is commonly known as food stamps.

Graphic by Megan McGrew/PBS NewsHour

Immigrants are more likely to use Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid than native-born Americans. About 4 percent of immigrants use SSI, compared to 3.5 percent of native-born citizens. Around 24.5 percent of immigrants use Medicaid, compared to 23 percent of native-born Americans, according to the CATO report.

Undocumented immigrants, which by some estimates make up half of all non U.S. citizens living in the country, are generally ineligible to receive federal benefits.

In response to public comments about the public charge rule, the Department of Homeland Security did not dispute the CATO findings but said they “are not inconsistent” with its final rule.

In a news conference last year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinnelli said the issue is not how immigrants’ benefits compare to native-born citizens, but whether the immigrants coming to the U.S. are self-sufficient.

“The benefit to taxpayers is a long-term benefit of seeking to ensure that our immigration system is bringing people to join us as American citizens, as legal permanent residents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be reliant on the welfare system — especially in the age of the modern welfare state, which is so expansive and expensive,” Cuccinnelli said.

What immigrants cost and contribute to the U.S. economy

Estimates on how many people will be affected by the public charge rule varies widely.

Around 1.2 million people seeking to become green card holders each year would be subject to the rule, but many of those are not eligible for, or already choose not to use public benefits. However, there are likely millions more immigrants trying to come to the U.S. who could also be affected.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates 382,264 immigrants per year will be affected by the changes. The New American Economy, a nonprofit that focuses on immigration research, puts the estimate much higher–at 3.9 million.

If all of those immigrants were barred from living in the U.S., the nation’s economy would lose about $82 billion per year, the New American Economy analysis finds. That number includes $48 billion the affected immigrants would earn in income each year, plus an estimated $34 billion that would otherwise be generated because of the money they spend in the U.S economy and the amount they would pay in taxes.

The Department of Homeland Security has estimated a much lower cost–$144.4 million. It also estimates that federal and state governments will pay out $2.47 billion less each year in benefits–a key Trump administration argument for implementing the changes.

The public charge rule aside, first-generation immigrants generally cost the government more than U.S.-born Americans, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. On average they cost about $1,600 per person annually.

But the children of those immigrants have a net positive effect on the U.S. economy, contributing about $1,700 per person per year. Third generation immigrants contribute about $1,300 annually.

The financial burden of immigration tends to fall more heavily on state and local governments because of the cost of their children’s public school. At the same time, investing in children’s education, health care and food security is likely to make them more productive workers with higher incomes later in life, which, in turn, generates more tax revenue.

“Adequate resources in childhood matter a lot for self-sufficiency and wellbeing later in life,” said Tara Watson, an economics professor at Williams College. “If we restrict benefits available to children who will grow up to be adults, in the long run we may be doing more harm than good.”

How federal benefits play into productivity

Studies have shown that people experiencing financial strain tend to be less productive in their work, largely due to the mental burden of not being able to meet their basic needs.

“If you are more concerned with your immediate needs to feed yourself, to house yourself, to make yourself warm, you are not able to make those investments that will help you make smarter decisions about your future and your family’s future,” said Andrew Lim, director of quantitative research for New American Economy.

Public welfare advocates say federal benefits, such as food stamps and housing assistance, alleviate financial stress, and more worker productivity tends to mean higher pay, which, in turn, means more contributions to federal taxes and the U.S. economy as a whole. Conversely, if a person does not have access to basic health care, they could become sick and unable to work.

The Department of Homeland Security has said it “does not agree that this rule would be the cause of such unfortunate events,” such as a person becoming ill.

How fewer lower skilled workers would affect certain industries

While higher-skilled immigrants tend to make more money and, therefore, contribute more to the U.S. economy, certain industries rely heavily on lower-skilled immigrants.

The hospitality, agriculture and construction sectors in particular have been facing labor shortages in recent years.

The expanding economy has been creating more jobs, but a crackdown on unauthorized immigrants, combined with better job opportunities in immigrants’ home countries–particularly in Mexico–have contributed to a shortage of workers.

If fewer low-income immigrants are allowed into the U.S. because of the public charge rule, those shortages are likely to worsen.

But the Trump administration has taken other steps to increase the number of immigrants workers allowed into the U.S. each year to work specifically in the agriculture industry and in seasonal jobs, which could offset some of the reduction that might be caused by the public charge rule.

A chilling effect?

Opponents of the public charge rule argue it could have a chilling effect, causing immigrants who are legally allowed to use federal public benefits to forgo utilizing those programs –particularly children who are U.S. citizens but live with their immigrant parents.

While it is unclear whether there is a direct link to the rule’s unveiling in 2018, SNAP participation rates among families with immigrant members fell between March 2018 and March 2019.

READ MORE: How U.S. citizens’ health could suffer under Trump’s new rule aimed at immigrants

During the same time, the participation rate for households with no immigrants increased, according to Watson’s analysis of federal data that was first published in Econofact.

In response to concerns about a chilling effect, the Department of Homeland Security said in its final rule that it expects immigrants “will make purposeful and well-informed decisions,” but the agency said they declined to scale back the rule to avoid the possibility that individuals might choose not to enroll in welfare programs because “self-sufficiency is the rule’s ultimate aim.”

An economic or value judgment?

In the end, Watson said it is difficult to calculate exactly how much the public charge rule will affect the U.S. economy.

The change is a rule, not a law, and the language is fairly vague, so the next presidential administration could choose how much weight to give the income thresholds and public benefits measurements when considering the host of factors involved in an immigrants’ application for legal status.

While some countries put more emphasis on immigrants’ skillset when considering admission, the U.S. has historically prioritized family reunification. If the public charge rule is strictly enforced, the U.S. would be signaling a major shift in its immigration policy.

“We would lose the emphasis on families,” Watson said. “And that’s a value judgment the American people need to make.”

For their part, Trump administration officials have said the rule promotes the “ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.”

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California’s economy gets nation’s No. 2 immigration boost, by this math – East Bay Times

California gets the nation’s second-largest positive economic contribution from its immigrant residents, says one new ranking.

Analysts at online financial information firm WalletHub looked at 23 economic and demographic factors to rank states by how much benefits immigrants provide. The report did not look at the legal status of immigrants.

California trailed only New York in the scale of benefits from their immigrant populations and was just ahead of New Jersey. The least immigrant benefits were found in Mississippi, then Wyoming and Idaho.

To do its scorecard, WalletHub broke the immigrant data into four slices. Here’s how those categories were graded:

Immigrant workforce: California got a No. 5 ranking. Tops: New Jersey, Florida and New York. Worst? Montana, Mississippi and Wyoming.

Socioeconomic contribution: California was No. 1 followed by Hawaii and Florida. Worst? Louisiana, Kentucky and Alabama.

Brain gain/Innovation: California was No. 3 behind New York and Delaware. Worst? Wyoming, Idaho and Mississippi.

International students: California got a No. 9 ranking. Tops was Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and New York. Worst? Alaska, Nevada and Mississippi.

Now we’ll add a caveat to this study: Like most rankings, these are a more digestible way to ponder business trends rather than a serious analysis of dollars-and-cents policy issues. Still, they do provide a window into some complex topics.

WalletHub added some nuggets about California’s immigrant economy, as it ranks nationally within the metrics used for the study:

No. 1 rankings: California has the largest share of jobs generated by immigrant-owned businesses and the largest share of foreign-born technology workers.

No. 6: Economic contribution of international students per capita.

No. 8: Share of jobs created by the presence of international students.

No. 12: Median household income of its foreign-born population.

No. 15: Share of Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or their children.

No. 23: Difference between state and local revenues and expenditures per immigrant..”Immigration, and how to handle it, continues to be a contentious topic in the United States in 2020,” WalletHub wrote. “Currently, much of the debate revolves around border security and President Trump’s border wall, which may receive $7.2 billion in diverted Pentagon funds this year. This proposition has divided lawmakers. But political differences aside, there’s no question that immigration as a whole affects the economy.”

PS: Since it’s a political year … My trusty spreadsheet tells me that “blue” states (the 20 plus D.C. that didn’t support President Trump in 2016) averaged a No. 17 rank in total score vs. No. 33 in the 30 red states that supported Trump.

Advocates push for immigration bill – BayStateBanner

Demaris Velasquez was undocumented for 22 years after leaving Guatemala. For years, she was afraid that U.S. immigration officials would deport her. Now she fears that if the Safe Communities Act bill before the Massachusetts Legislature doesn’t pass, the estimated 173,000 undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts will continue to live in fear, not only of deportation, but even of reporting crimes or seeking medical care.

“If we sent a message that Massachusetts is willing to pass bills based on human rights needs instead of fear or phobia, then our community, no matter where they were born from, no matter … their immigration status, can develop trust in local police officers and be able to report any type of crimes,” she told the Banner.

Velasquez, director of programs at Agencia Alpha, was one of many advocates who attended a hearing last Friday on the bill, filed by Sen. James Eldridge, Rep. Ruth Balser, Rep. Liz Miranda and Rep. Nika Elugardo.

“People won’t report crimes,” said Velasquez. “We have people who are victims of domestic violence who are afraid of doing that. We have little children who are born here in the United States, and they are afraid that their parents will be stopped and deported just because they are speaking Spanish on the street.”

Balser said that victims and witnesses of crimes are afraid to contact the police, out of fear that their immigration status will be questioned. Ill children cannot obtain medical care, she said, because parents are scared to go to doctors.

“I think that people in the immigrant community are frightened,” she told the Banner. The SCA, she said, is “a way of alleviating some of those fears. And so if it doesn’t pass, it means people stay frightened.”

Balser said that she filed the bill partly for personal reasons.

“My decision to be the lead House sponsor on this bill is informed in large measure by my being a Jewish American who has the historical memory of the doors of this country being closed in the 1920s and 1930s when Europe’s Jews needed a safe place to go,” she said. “I was brought up with a simple message: ‘Never again.’”

She referred to the strict immigration laws that the U.S. enacted against Jews that fled Europe before the Holocaust.

“I think a lot of us are just very sensitive to that history being repeated,” she said. “It’s very important that America welcome refugees and immigrants. We’re supposed to be a safe haven.”

Balser told the Banner that she is optimistic the bill will pass. The bill already has several co-sponsors, including the Massachusetts Immigration and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the largest group in New England advocating for immigrants and refugees.

Amy Grunder, MIRA’s director of legislative affairs, said that passage of the SCA would restore confidence in public institutions. The bill ensures that police and court officials don’t question immigration status. It also guarantees basic due process — Grunder noted that undocumented immigrants would be advised to contact an attorney before submitting to questioning. Under the bill, law enforcement would notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of a person’s release from custody only after they have served a sentence — not before their day in court.

The SCA also ends what are known as 287(g) agreements. This section, featured in the Immigration and Nationality Act, encourages collaboration between ICE and state/local police officers. Grunder said that these agreements deputize these officers as immigration agents at state and local expense.

“The purpose of the Safe Communities Act is to draw a line between public safety work of our law enforcement officials and [federal] immigration enforcement,” she told the Banner. “Currently we have a situation where the federal government is using our state and local law enforcement to assist them in finding and deporting immigrant state residents, pretty indiscriminately at this point. So the purpose of the bill is to ensure that police stay focused on their public safety responsibilities, and work with the federal government on other matters.”

When local police officers are involved in deportation, she said, communities are afraid to report crime — whether it be workplace safety violations, wage theft, and even domestic violence or sexual assault, whose victims are often women.

“One of the hardest things to get those women to do is make a police report. And it may not even be fear for themselves — it could be fear that someone in their family will get deported,” Grunder said.

Vulnerable status

Most immigrants in Massachusetts — around 35.8% — come from Latin American and Caribbean countries. The Haitian community has especially been affected by harsh immigration policies recently, as many residents fear the revocation of their Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. In 2010, a devastating earthquake killed hundreds of thousands. Survivors fled the country and were granted protection in the United States. The TPS has been extended multiple times — now, until 2021, but uncertainty remains.

Pastor Dieufort J. Fleurissaint, chairman of Haitian-Americans United, told the Banner that these immigrants, alongside the undocumented residents, live in constant fear of deportation.

“They’re afraid to go even out,” he said. “Even to take their kids to doctors. Even to take their kids to school, because — ‘What about if police stopped me? For being black? And then they find out that I don’t have my paper, they can turn me over to ICE for deportation.’”

Boston’s workforce also faces this threat. Thomas O’Brien, a cofounder of Massachusetts Business Immigrant Coalition (MBIC), said that one out of five workers in the state is an immigrant. Immigrants must be protected, he said, because the state’s reputation as a diverse and inclusive place is central to economic competitiveness.

“The fear that has taken hold in immigrant communities makes it easy for unscrupulous employers to mistreat and take advantage of workers,” he said. “We want all workers in Massachusetts to be safe and well treated on the job.”

Eldridge told the Banner that he first filed the bill, whose formal name is ‘An Act to Protect the Civil Rights and the Safety of All Massachusetts Residents,’ eight years ago, in response to an increase in deportation.

“This was actually filed in response not to President Trump, but the Obama administration,” he said. “What we were seeing was undocumented immigrants that hadn’t broken any laws, maybe got a speeding ticket or driving without a license, and they were being pulled into the immigration system and being deported by ICE. I wanted to make sure that Massachusetts law enforcement and taxpayer dollars were not aiding and abetting a mass deportation agenda.”

Divergent arguments

Not everyone has expressed support for the bill.

Henry Barbaro, a Newton resident, said that the ‘Safe Communities Act’ was a terrible name for the bill.

“It’s misleading and does not reflect the bill’s purpose,” he testified. “A more accurate, descriptive name would have been ‘An Act to Obstruct Enforcement of Immigration Law.’… To claim that impeding the function of law enforcement agencies would somehow make our community safer is just plain ridiculous.”

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restricting immigration, also testified against the bill.

“Ninety percent of the people removed from the country by ICE, the people they are looking for, are the people that come to their attention because they were arrested for crimes at the state and local level,” she said.

Vaughan’s testimony was challenged during the hearing, however, because her organization has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center due to its “repeated circulation of white nationalist and antisemitic writers.”

Next steps for SCA

On Feb. 5, legislative committees must decide on all bills referred to them. They can recommend that a bill advances, does not pass, or is extended. Grunder said that extension was the most likely option.

“What the elected leaders of Massachusetts do in response, or what they fail to do, will define our place and their place in history,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. “Silence can constitute complicity. Inaction can constitute acquiescence.”

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‘He Is a Dictator’ – The Wall Street Journal

Rep. Jerrold Nadler rarely disappoints, and the always over-the-top impeachment manager came through again Friday as he summed up the Democratic case to remove President Trump from office: “This is a determination by President Trump that he wants to be all powerful. He does not have to respect the Congress—he does not have to respect the representatives of the people. Only his will goes. He is a dictator. This must not stand. That is another reason he must be moved from office.”

Let’s count the ways in which Mr. Trump is…