The Department of Homeland Security’s recently finalized “public charge” rule directs immigration officials to reject applications from individuals who seek to remain in or enter the U.S. lawfully if they have received — or are judged more likely than not to receive in the future — any of an array of public benefits that are tied to need. The rule will have two main impacts. It will make it harder for those currently of modest means to gain lawful entry or permission to remain in the country as a permanent resident. And it will make immigrant families fear receiving benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid, and housing assistance that can help them make ends meet and access health care when their low pay is not enough. Many will forgo assistance altogether, resulting in more economic insecurity and hardship, with long-term negative consequences, particularly for children.
The Administration’s justification for the rule rests on the erroneous assumption that immigrants currently of modest means are harmful to our nation and our economy, devaluing their work and contributions and discounting the upward mobility immigrant families demonstrate.
In fact, immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy in many ways. They work at high rates and make up more than a third of the workforce in some industries. Their geographic mobility helps local economies respond to worker shortages, smoothing out bumps that could otherwise weaken the economy. Immigrant workers help support the aging native-born population, increasing the number of workers as compared to retirees and bolstering the Social Security and Medicare trust funds. And children born to immigrant families are upwardly mobile, promising future benefits not only to their families, but to the U.S. economy overall.
To be sure, immigrants contribute to our communities in ways that go far beyond their impacts on the economy. This analysis focuses on these economic impacts, and so it necessarily provides only a narrow window into the ways in which immigration has been a positive force for our nation.