For America, immigration has always represented something of a paradox. How else are we supposed to make sense of a nation of immigrants that has never liked immigrants?

On the one hand, no other country on the planet does immigration better than the United States. It’s hard to think of a place whose policies for entering are more lenient, fair and open than this one. The system isn’t perfect. But there is very little favoritism or corruption. Why, America even has a “diversity lottery” that turns the admissions process into a game of chance, where migrants from underrepresented countries get a shot at the golden ticket. What other country would do such a thing?

On the other hand, America also has a long history of its elected officials proposing one bad idea after another about how to deal with immigration. If you were to gather up all those bad ideas, you’d have a bushelful in no time. You’d find everything from denying education and health care to undocumented immigrants in the hopes that they’ll self-deport to enlisting local police in the enforcement of federal immigration law to militarizing the U.S.-Mexico border with armed guards and “big beautiful” walls.

Near the top of that list you’d find the latest scheme being hatched by the Trump administration for how to cut the number of legal immigrants who come to the United States. 

Now maybe you believe, as I do, that Americans don’t really have a problem with legal immigrants, unless perhaps you mean that we could use more of them. And maybe you believe, as I do, that legal immigration is perhaps the best thing about this country and that we ought to avoid monkeying with it as much as possible. 

Be that as it may, there are many people in this land of ours who aren’t satisfied with battling illegal immigration and are now setting their sights on legal immigration. And some of those people work in the Trump administration — including, apparently, President Trump himself, White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others. 

The way these people see it, America’s immigration system is broken because it works a bit too well. This country lets in too many legal immigrants — about 1 million per year — and welcomes people from a host of less-than-desirable countries, they say.

So now the administration’s immigration hawks have a sneaky plan to drastically cut the overall number of legal immigrants without coming right out and declaring that this is what they are doing. They’re making it seem as if they’re looking for the best and brightest migrants, without acknowledging that this will ultimately result in a small pool of successful applicants. They’re also not advertising the fact that, besides the best and the brightest, they’re also looking for the wealthiest and most privileged.

That’s the goal of a new plan being cooked up by the Department of Homeland Security. Those who want to migrate to the United States would have to take and pass something called a “public charge” test. The test puts a premium on applicants’ income and assets, and puts a strike against those who have a medical condition and no health insurance.  

Applicants are expected to be overachievers, earning about 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines. According to an analysis by the Center for American Progress, if those same standards were applied to every U.S. citizen, at least 100 million people — or about one-third of the country — would fail the test.  

In short, the Trump administration only wants the immigrants who are the least needy about having to immigrate here. Put another way, the administration is most interested in welcoming those who may be the least interested in coming here. 

Has anyone thought this out? I don’t think so. Because, if they had, they’d see what sort of damage you can do when you run the process of immigrating legally to the United States like it’s the membership office at Mar-o-Lago. 

For more than 230 years, America has taken the hungry, ambitious, hard-working, optimistic and daring. They came to this land of second chances with nothing but their dreams and the drive to realize them. They fell in love with this country for giving them the chance to make something for themselves and their families. They raised the flag, sent their children off to war and left the country better than they found it.

Do we really want to scrap all that, and admit people who may well think they’re doing us a favor by coming here — instead of the other way around?   

That’s what happens when you go from “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” to “Show me your bank statements, medical records, and credit scores.” 

Talk about a bad idea.


Ruben Navarrette is a contributing editor to Angelus and a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group and a columnist for the Daily Beast. He is a radio host, a frequent guest analyst on cable news, and member of the USA Today Board of Contributors and host of the podcast “Navarrette Nation.” Among his books are “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano.” 

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