The newly finalized rule about immigrant welfare use is 837 pages long, but it boils down to two things: Foreigners who can’t pay their bills shouldn’t be allowed to move here, and “welfare” doesn’t just mean cash benefits.
As to the first: The first comprehensive immigration law at the federal level was the 1882 Immigration Act, which, among other things, excluded anyone who was “unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” That principle — the “public-charge doctrine,” as it’s called — has been included in all subsequent immigration legislation, including the 1996 immigration and welfare-reform laws.
But the exclusion of “public charges” didn’t start in the 19th century, but well before that, when immigration law was handled by the states. In fact, preventing the immigration of people who couldn’t support themselves was the subject of the very first immigration law ever passed in the colonies, in Massachusetts Bay in 1645. It’s not too much to say that the public-charge doctrine is the founding principle of American immigration policy. So those arguing for the admission of foreigners (other than refugees) who can’t earn enough to feed their own children without taxpayer subsidies are arguing for a radical break with 400 years of practice.
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