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EDITORIAL: A collision between the welfare state, immigration

Lost amid the impeachment din, President Donald Trump scored a major victory last week when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed his administration to block thousands of illegal immigrants from receiving welfare benefits while a dispute over the plan winds through the courts.

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security issued a rule intended to prevent noncitizens from becoming dependent on government programs. The rule allows federal officials to deny residency or green cards to those they believe may need non-cash public assistance — including food stamps, Medicaid or housing vouchers — for more than a year.

The usual hotbeds of Trump resistance — California, New York, Illinois — had challenged the proposal, leading a federal judge in October to issue a nationwide injunction against enforcement. On Jan. 27, however, high court justices eliminated that roadblock.

Immigration advocates were aghast. “Never before,” said Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless Immigration, “have we said you have to be comfortably middle class before you come to America.”

And thus we see the collision between open borders, illegal immigration and the welfare state.

America is built on the hopes and dreams of immigrants. But for the first 190 years of this nation’s existence, those immigrants arrived on our shores largely without any expectation of public handouts for food, shelter, medical care or anything else. Today, progressives advocate turning that equation on its head in a race for votes cynically cloaked as compassion.

It was only 24 years ago that President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed a law holding immigrant sponsors responsible for the costs of any welfare benefits received by their charges. Current law also already prevents legal immigrants from collecting means-tested federal benefits for five years. Is it so unreasonable that many U.S. taxpayers might balk at immediately subsidizing migrants who enter the country illegally?

The debate over illegal immigration is too often dominated by extremists locked in a cage match over whether to throw open the borders or to conduct mass deportations. The distinction between legal and illegal immigration — along with the costs and economic value of each — becomes clouded. Where is the reasonable middle ground?

A recent Harvard study, Reason magazine reports, found that many Americans would be less hostile toward immigration if advocates made “the case that immigrants don’t need handouts to succeed.” Viewed through that lens, perhaps the administration plan to restrict public assistance can be seen as pro-immigrant, while the Democratic demand that taxpayers write a check so illegal immigrants may collect the “free” stuff they propose is, ironically, precisely the opposite.

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