The Trump Administration is about to change the rules of naturalization in a way intended to drastically cut the number of immigrants who become U.S. citizens. According to NBC News, the White House’s plan is to make immigrants who have received any public assistance ineligible to become citizens. (The Department of Homeland Security did not deny the plan’s existence to NBC.) It is impossible to predict exactly how many people will be affected, but immigration experts think the impact will be enormous. The new rules appear to use the broadest possible definition of public assistance—one that includes Obamacare and children’s health insurance—meaning that most potential new citizens will be ineligible for naturalization.
In 2016, the last year for which statistics are available, more than seven hundred and fifty thousand immigrants became American citizens. In order to apply for naturalization, an immigrant has to have lived in the United States as a legal permanent resident for thirty months out of a consecutive five years, depending on the reason she gained permanent-resident status. Because a green card often takes a number of years to obtain, most new citizens have been living in the United States for well more than five years. During that time, the chances are good that the immigrants have benefited from the provisions of the Affordable Care Act (either through the Medicaid expansion or by enrolling in an Obamacare marketplace plan) or used a program such as chip, which provides low-cost health insurance for children; in New York State, children in families of four earning up to $97,200 are eligible for chip. With an approach this broad, it seems likely that hundreds of thousands of people a year will be affected by the rules change.
The first and easiest argument against the change in naturalization rules is that it’s unfair. In effect, the government is reneging on a deal that immigrants entered into years ago: they have to live in the country legally, as upstanding future citizens, for a certain number of years, and then they can become citizens. They have been paying taxes: almost all immigrants, including those who are in the country illegally, pay taxes. People who are applying for naturalization have, in other words, been contributing their fair share to the system. Although all this is true, this objection doesn’t go far enough.
By Masha Gessen for THE NEW YORK
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