The criminalization of poverty and legal immigration

Despite our country’s immense wealth, poverty has been a longstanding challenge to far too many communities, especially immigrant communities. This inequality has persisted for generations, simply because citizenship opens the door to uncountable opportunities, and immigration policy has frequently been racially and economically charged. Instead of policies to ease the path to citizenship for all people regardless of means and background, the current administration is trying to make things even worse for the already less fortunate.

The recent proposed regulation to make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens if they or a member of their household uses or is likely to use CHIP, food stamps, or other benefits threatens the most economically disadvantaged among us. It would force millions of lawful permanent residents to choose between food or healthcare and denial of status, which would ultimately lead to deportation.

So much for “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

By targeting poor, documented, (legal!) immigrants, this administration is going against Trump’s campaign promise of only going after criminals and undocumented immigrants. No matter what spin Trump and his White House try to put on it, we should all be alarmed, and not just because he lied. Rather, all Americans— regardless of their socioeconomic background— should be able to agree that poverty is not a crime. Making poverty a deportable offense is not only counter to our values, but also ignorant of our country’s history.

This country was founded by people fleeing persecution and poverty. Those are the people who made our nation what it is today — or at least what it was prior to the last election. We cannot simply decide that, because our ancestors made it here in time, immigrants should now have to meet some arbitrary wealth or income standard. Doing so would not only be unfair, but economically irresponsible.

Researchers have found that more immigration equals more economic growth, and vice versa. This economic growth benefits us all, and cutting it off  would be devastating to many American communities. The American economy may technically be growing, but in the last few weeks reports have come out proving wage growth is effectively being stifled by inflation, the Republican tax cuts passed last December have benefited the wealthy almost exclusively, and student loan debt could cause the next recession. Do we really want to further compromise an economy already teetering on the brink of disaster?

Instead of arbitrarily targeting poor immigrants, we need an immigration policy that works for future and current Americans, regardless of their country of origin or net worth. We should not allow Trump’s widely unpopular campaign promise of ending illegal immigration to shift into an even more unpopular attack on all legal immigrants.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, we cannot only welcome immigrants when it is convenient, or when they are highly skilled or wealthy. People like Donald Trump and Stephen Miller wouldn’t be here had their great-grandfathers been under the same scrutiny.

Whether it be through lopsided tax cuts that benefit the wealthy, or recent attacks on documented immigrants, this White House has proven itself to be an ally of the rich and enemy of the poor.

This November, we should all go to the polls to make clear that poverty is not a crime, regardless of one’s citizenship status.