On May 11, the National Public Radio (NPR) published a piece entitled “Will Filing For Unemployment Hurt My Green Card? Legal Immigrants Are Afraid.” The key takeaway here is that, as the title itself suggests, is the claim that because of the Trump administration’s supposedly unwelcoming rhetoric and policies immigrants are so scared that they are afraid to access benefits.
The article is part of a narrative that is, of course, not new. NPR and other liberal and leftist outlets have been running similar stories for years to manipulate both the emotions of native-born Americans and legal immigrants. Whether it was food stamps (SNAP), state health insurance (e.g. MediCal in California), children’s health insurance, or – in this case, unemployment insurance – the Trump administration’s efforts to rein in the abuse of our social safety net by non-citizens (be they legal immigrants or illegal migrants) was and is constantly portrayed as a mean-spirited effort by a xenophobic and miserly regime to intimidate the poor and vulnerable. Most of the fire has focused on the administration’s new public charge rule.
NPR bases its narrative on a “half-dozen stories,” which is hardly a large and representative sample. The article complains that these are “people earning a living and paying taxes in the U.S. yet fearful that collecting unemployment might jeopardize their immigration cases.” It also admits that USCIS confirmed that unemployment insurance is considered an “earned benefit,” and therefore would not make an immigrant inadmissible on public charge grounds. (The information is also readily available on the USCIS website.)
However, this short clarifying paragraph is buried in the middle of the article, and the author effectively dismisses it by quoting an executive at the American Immigration Lawyers Association – an organization with a clear fiduciary interest in representing immigrants, and even scaring them into believing that they will need their services – who claims that “the perception is the problem, not the reality.” And much of the perception, according to the quoted AILA exec, stems from the fact that, as far as immigrants are concerned, “in the [news], you constantly hear you’re not welcome.”
Clearly, that is a swipe at the Trump administration, whose efforts to protect the interests of the American people by barring immigrants who are likely to become public charges, is branded as “unwelcoming rhetoric” by news outlets like NPR. What it leaves out is the role of left-leaning media (including NPR), liberal Democratic politicians, pro-illegal-alien activists, and ethnic advocacy groups. These interests deliberately distort and caricature the administration’s policies, while simultaneously fomenting and pushing fear.
In addition, while some immigrants may fear that applying for unemployment or other benefits may jeopardize them, the reality is that many have no such fears of accessing America’s social safety net in one way or another. For instance, according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), in 2014 “63 percent of households headed by a non-citizen reported that they used at least one welfare program, compared to 35 percent of native-headed households.” The percentage of immigrants on benefits likely went down under Trump, but the widespread use of public benefits by immigrants during the Obama era only underscores the need for public charge reform.
Like American citizens, legal immigrants should be able to apply for the earned benefit of unemployment insurance – particularly in a time of economic distress such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than fear-mongering, organizations and media should perhaps more effectively communicate to legal immigrants that applying for unemployment benefits will not contribute to inadmissibility under public charge. That being said, the U.S. government has done its job of clarifying which benefits are taken into account, and which are not (including unemployment). It is under no obligation to do what the left seems to want the administration to do, i.e. bend over backwards to assure that foreign nationals don’t have to think twice before applying for public benefits, lest they feel “unwelcome.”