Immigrants Welcome to the US as Long as They Are White and Wealthy

August 14, 2019

The Trump's administration's Kenneth Cuccinelli rewrites Emma Lazarus's words on the Statue of Liberty, telling the poor and oppressed they're no longer welcome. This comes right after Trump proposes to limit legal migration to the US. We speak to Michael Paarlberg of IPS

The Trump's administration's Kenneth Cuccinelli rewrites Emma Lazarus's words on the Statue of Liberty, telling the poor and oppressed they're no longer welcome. This comes right after Trump proposes to limit legal migration to the US. We speak to Michael Paarlberg of IPS


Immigrants Welcome to the US as Long as They Are White and Wealthy

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner.

The words that Emma Lazarus— the socialist and poet who was descended from Portuguese Jews who came to this country in the 18th century— that sit on the Statue of Liberty, ring in our ears as Americans. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The heart of who we are as Americans in the center of the struggle for immigrant rights we are having in this 21st century are inspired by these words. Now they’re being rewritten by Trump’s administration. Kenneth Cuccinelli, who is the interim Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, reworked Lazarus’s words to this.

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE CITIZENSHIP AND IMMIGRATION SERVICES OFFICE: They certainly are. “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” That plaque was put on the Statue of Liberty at almost the same time as the first public charge law was passed. Very interesting timing.

MARC STEINER: Very interesting timing. He was on NPR because of the new Trump rules that would take effect on October 15th that will ensure that the huddled masses, tempest-tossed and homeless, will have no home here, unless they arrive white and with a bank account. To help us wade through all of this, we talk with Dr. Michael Paarlberg, who’s Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University and Associate Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. Michael, welcome. Good to have you with us here on The Real News.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Thank you for having me on.

MARC STEINER: So I think I want to begin with this clip, to continue on from Cuccinelli and what he said on NPR the other morning, which didn’t shock me, but it made me stop for a moment even as I was driving into the studio here. But this is what he had to say afterwards on CNN.

STEVEN PORTNOY, CBS NEWS RADIO: Is that sentiment, “give us your tired, your poor” still operative in the United States, or should those words come down?

KEN CUCCINELLI: This rule will cover for USCIS almost 400,000 people a year whose applications to become legal permanent residents will include a meaningful analysis of whether they’re likely to become a public charge or not. I do not think by any means we’re ready to take anything off the Statue of Liberty.

RACHEL MARTIN, NPR: What do you think America stands for?

KEN CUCCINELLI: Well, of course that poem was referring back to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies where people were considered wretched if they weren’t in the right class.

MARC STEINER: So, political scientist as you are, how do we respond to this?

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Well, Cuccinelli did make the point that this came about, the poem, around the same time as the first public charge rule. It also came about just about the same time as the Chinese Exclusion Act of the 19th century, which was the – still the only immigration law that specifically targeted a nationality, so it does hearken back to a time of nativism. At one point, the public charge rule actually did severely restrict immigration, but at this point it is really not something that is meant to prevent people from getting legal residency, which is the first step to a path to citizenship. At this point, less than 5% of immigrants use the specific programs that are currently included in the public charge rule, which is TANF and SSI.

MARC STEINER: So this was expected to effect, from what I’ve read, at least 382,000 people who want to adjust their immigration status according to the DHS. Many immigrant advocates have been saying that many more will be affected by this because poor people will be just terrified to even move. I mean, what’s going to be the effect of this legislation? Let’s start there.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Well, there have already been survey experiments coming out of the University of California, San Diego that show that immigrants will be much less likely to seek both emergency care and preventive care. This is the basis of lawsuits that are being brought forth against this by California, which is alleging that this rule change would lead to a public health disaster. It will almost certainly result in immigrants not claiming the benefits that they are legally entitled to claim.

MARC STEINER: So when you see what this is and what this says—Well, let’s talk about what the officials say first. The officials in this government say that this would not affect people who have green cards already, certain people in the military. It wouldn’t affect refugees, asylum seekers, pregnant women and children. That’s what they’re saying, but if it’s affecting poor people in this 382-page document, which I have not been able to wade to the entire thing, that even what they’re saying could not be true. I mean, if anybody ever asked for public housing, any kind of assistance, if somebody was sick and they had to go to a doctor and couldn’t pay for it, they got assistance from the hospital, that could be a reason to turn them away. I mean, what is the battle about this? How do you battle against this? What do you think is going to happen?

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: So in the immediate term, this is going to be a legal fight, just like pretty much all of Trump’s immigration laws and this is the M.O. of the administration when it comes to trying to restrict immigration. We should point out this is legal immigration. This is something that would affect legal immigrants. So it really does not have anything to do with stopping undocumented immigration, but the real effect is going to be to create a climate of fear among all immigrants. Many immigrants have mixed families, which is to say, the children might be US citizens, the parents might have green cards, some relatives might be undocumented. 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, even if this does end up getting thrown out in the courts just like the Safe Third Party rule under which the Trump administration illegally tried to bar anyone from getting asylum, which was slapped down by the courts. It did have the effect of creating a climate of fear and making people scared, including again, people who are here legally.

MARC STEINER: I mean, so you have people like the Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, who’s taking this to court and other attorney generals are probably doing the same thing. It could be a long protracted battle clearly, but the court is shifting conservative in these last decades. We don’t know how this will end up, but it seems to me that this does hearken back to a time in the 19th century that you talked about earlier, when we very specifically did not want Chinese and Asians to come in this country. And we’re making an equally difficult now for people who are Latino and Africans and people from the Caribbean to come here. So to call this out as a racist doctrine as well, I think it’s kind of vital to the struggle against it.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Yes, and US immigration law prior to 1965, which is the law under which we currently operate was explicitly racist. It had quotas set by country, which were higher or lower depending on the whiteness of that country and this is something that the Trump administration has specifically hearkened back to. Trump has said things like, we want more people from countries like Norway and fewer people from the countries that he has denigrated, which is where most asylum seekers are currently coming from. So this is very much a throwback to another era in which you did have explicitly racist quotas on people coming into the country.

MARC STEINER: And it’s fairly blatant from Trump’s comments early on about people from “shit hole countries,” to what was just said by Cuccinelli when he talked about “this was made for Europeans.” Clearly, he meant what he said. All these policies had been very clearly building up to this point since Trump has become president to really tighten immigration and not allow people from South America and Latin America, I mean to say, and Central American to come in. I mean, I’m curious, one of the things I know the Institute of Policy Studies does actively is to work with activist groups throughout the country and to marry their scholarship with activism. And this to me seems will be key to convincing the rest of America that this is a mistake, because a lot of people will agree with what just happened.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Yes, it’s often politically popular to restrict immigration. However, it’s done through guises that not really true. For a long time, Trump has said that what he really wants to do is restrict illegal immigration and this goes back to previous administrations. It was under President Clinton that the number of criminal deportations skyrocketed. Many of these people are people who would have things like a DUI, or petty criminal charges and of course deportation skyrocketed under Obama. So this is a very popular thing on both sides of the aisle. However, it’s always done under the guise of picking out undocumented immigrants, undocumented criminal immigrants, and yet we see now that this is really something that is designed to restrict legal immigration on a selective basis, which is to say a basis of income and race.

MARC STEINER: I mean, I can’t remember a time in recent American history when it’s been so blatantly racist and blatantly anti-poor. I mean, yes, those policies existed, but this is like in your face.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Yes, it is something that plays to Trump’s base because many of these initiatives that the Trump administration has attempted to do, have been slapped out of the courts. If you recall in July, they tried to bar anyone from entering the US to seek asylum who had passed through a third country, which is to say everyone from Central America who goes through Mexico.

MARC STEINER: Right.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: And remember all the way back to the beginning of administration, the first Muslim ban was also slapped down by courts. So there are many initiatives that have gone through protracted legal battles and ultimately been turned down by the courts, but in the meantime it creates a great deal of uncertainty and fear and sends a message both to people who are, again, waiting in line doing everything they’re supposed to do, not to come. And at the same time, sending a message to the base that the administration is doing something about immigration, even if that’s something is more of a fear tactic and not really a concrete policy change.

MARC STEINER: So as we conclude here, one last thought. As a political scientist, how do you think this might play out in the coming election in 2020? Because clearly you said he’s playing to his base, which he is, but immigration is not the most popular – is not very popular with a lot of Americans, not necessarily Trump’s base, his solid base. I mean, it’s something that’s become the bogey person of this world and in our fears of immigrants and it’s always been played off like this. I mean, America has a strong nativist streak in it, throughout our history. So I’m curious how you think looking at the past and looking at the moment we’re in now, how this will play out in 2020?

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: Well, Trump is clearly going all in on immigration for 2020. He’s doing so, interestingly, in a way that obfuscates his lack of concrete policy changes. You remember he was elected promising to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. Neither of those things happened. So Trump is trying to remind his base and turn them out by saying, well, I’m doing something restrict immigration, both legal and illegal, but it is something that he’s been trying very hard to tie to criminality by trying to convince Americans that immigration and crime are somehow linked even though empirical studies show that there is no such thing. But this is something that plays very well to his base and plays very well specifically to swing states in which there’s a great deal of uncertainty about changing demographics.

MARC STEINER: Well, Michael Paarlberg, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate you taking the time, I look forward to many more conversations. This is a really important subject for all of us to wrestle with and to get the real story out to the people of America. Thank you so much for being here today.

MICHAEL PAARLBERG: It’s my pleasure.

MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.