Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

Curbing immigration

Compassion | New policies make it difficult for immigrants to enter the United States legally
by Rachel Lynn Aldrich
Posted 10/09/19, 05:44 pm

Since he first promised to build a wall along the U.S. southern border, President Donald Trump has made cracking down on illegal immigration a mainstay of his platform. In the ongoing effort to decrease the flow of undocumented migrants across the border, the Trump administration has implemented policies that also limit the number of legal immigrants.

On Friday, the president signed a proclamation that says the United States will deny visas to immigrants unless they prove they can afford healthcare. The law takes effect on Nov. 3.

Under the rule, immigrants trying to move to the United States legally won’t be allowed to enter the country unless they can prove to the consulate officer they will have health insurance coverage within 30 days of arriving or they have enough money to pay for any medical costs. Health coverage through Medicaid doesn’t count. Though lawful immigrants qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies, using them to buy the required insurance will result in a denied visa application. The rule applies to spouses and parents of U.S. citizens, making it more difficult for naturalized citizens to sponsor their family members. The White House instructed the State Department to write up standards and procedures to implement the proclamation but did not give details about how it will be enforced.

The rule only affects visas for people who want to immigrate, not those who want to stay temporarily. It does not apply to children or people who work for the U.S. government, and the required insurance can be purchased individually or provided by an employer. In 2017, only about 57 percent of U.S. immigrants had private health insurance, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration moved to deny permanent residency to immigrants who use federally funded benefits. The change clarified so-called “public charge” rules so that people who participate in programs such as Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) cannot get green cards. In June, the president ordered government agencies to start enforcing laws requiring immigrants’ sponsors, often family members, to pay the government back for any benefits noncitizens may have used.

At the same time, the Trump administration has drastically reduced another group of legal entrants to the United States: refugees. The State Department dropped the refugee cap to 18,000 people, the lowest number in the program’s 50-year history. Before Trump became president, the United States allowed an average of 90,000 refugees to enter per year. The number of refugees allowed into the United States has dropped 80 percent during Trump’s time in office.

For the first time, the president also gave state and local governments the authority to refuse to resettle refugees. Some states, including Texas and Tennessee, had already filed suits against the government to stop resettlement efforts. Refugees can move anywhere in the United States after their initial placement, but the rule change limits their resettlement options.

Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, noted that immigrants make up about 11 percent of the United States’ economic output. He said most studies show that immigration results in an overall increase in wages.

Nowrasteh pointed to the work of another Cato researcher, Julian Simon, who argued that a larger population is better for the economy. That holds true whether the growth is from a higher birthrate or more immigration. Fertility has been on the decline in the United States, hitting a 30-year low last year.

“The wealth produced by immigration is vast,” Nowrasteh wrote. “The current gains from immigration are small compared to what they could be under a more liberalized system.”

Associated Press/Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times Associated Press/Photo by Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times Emily Zamourka at the Wilshire-Normandie subway station in Los Angeles on Sept. 30

Discovered

A Los Angeles police officer recorded a video of a homeless woman singing in a subway station, sparking national attention and offers of help.

On Sept. 26, the police department tweeted the video with the caption, “4 million people call LA home. 4 million stories. 4 million voices … sometimes you just have to stop and listen to one, to hear something beautiful.” The clip attracted more than a million views and retweets. People pointed out the singer sounded classically trained and wondered who she was. A few days later, KNBC-TV answered the question: The woman was Emily Zamourka, a 52-year-old Russian violinist and pianist who became homeless after someone stole and broke the violin she used for street performing.

Two GoFundMe campaigns started by well-wishers have since raised more than $100,000 for Zamourka’s housing and a new violin, and Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino said his office is working to find a place for her to live. She performed in Los Angeles on Saturday and was offered a recording contract by Grammy-nominated music producer Joel Diamond.

“From the bottom of my heart I just wanted to thank everyone for what they're doing,” Zamourka told reporters on Saturday. “And what they’re trying still to do.” —Charissa Koh

Associated Press/Photo by Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority Associated Press/Photo by Southwest Virginia Regional Jail Authority Joel Smithers

Sentenced

Joel Smithers’ medical practice had all the red flags of a pill mill. His Martinsville, Va., clinic lacked medical equipment and had only one examination bed, said investigators with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The receptionist slept in a back room of the office, which regularly remained open past midnight. Customers drove hundreds of miles to receive prescriptions, and many slept or loitered in the parking lot while waiting up to 12 hours to see the doctor.

Last week, a judge sentenced Smithers to 40 years in federal prison on federal drug charges. The DEA said that in the two years after opening his practice in 2015, Smithers prescribed more than half a million doses of controlled substances, including the opioids oxycodone and fentanyl, to people in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. DEA Special Agent Jesse Fong said Smithers “hid behind his white doctor’s coat as a large-scale drug dealer.” —C.K.

Facebook/Forgotten Harvest (file) Facebook/Forgotten Harvest (file) Forgotten Harvest workers unload food boxes.

Rescued

Nonprofit organizations are finding ways to rescue food for the needy before it lands at the local dump.

Forgotten Harvest in Detroit collects and delivers 130,000 pounds of food every day from local restaurants. In the morning, 27 trucks leave the organization’s warehouse to pick up food and redistribute it to three or four community partners. About 16,000 volunteers work to inspect, sort, and prepare the goods received from manufacturers, a farm, and other donors.

In Austin, Texas, the group Replate operates year-round, collecting food from places like grocery stores, restaurants, and catered lunches at businesses. They donate to food banks, a community dining room, shelters, and other nonprofit groups.

The online Food Rescue Locator by Sustainable America lists similar organizations across the country. —C.K.

Rachel Lynn Aldrich

Rachel is an assistant editor for WORLD Digital. Follow Rachel on Twitter @Rachel_Lynn_A.

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