Immigrants are vital to the American economy.
Immigrants are vital to the American economy. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

While the Trump administration has long been on a campaign to discourage, arrest, and deport undocumented immigrants, now it appears the administration is attempting to discourage legal immigration as well.

This week the administration announced that going forward, legal immigrants could be denied green cards for applying for government benefits like Medicaid, food stamps, or housing assistance. And this won't just impact immigrants who actually use those services; it will also apply to those who are deemed by the government to be likely to need those services as well. This could impact hundreds of thousands of immigrants, many of whom come to this country with very few resources to escape poverty endemic in their home countries.

If this seems like the antithesis of the whole "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free thing," that's exactly the point. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (and a man with a history of such rabidly homophobic beliefs that Savage believes he's a closeted homosexual), told NPR's Rachel Martin that the iconic Emma Lazarus poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty needs an update. Martin asked if the poem was part of "American ethos," and Cuccinelli replied, adding a few new words to the poem, "Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge."

Someone please deport this man immediately.

What Cuccinelli said isn't just fundamentally inhumane. What America actually needs is more immigration, not less. Our population is rapidly aging at the same time that birth rates are rapidly dropping, and this is a real threat to our future economic vitality, which depends on steady population growth. Now, there are good arguments to be made for degrowth, especially because unlimited growth can permanently deplete natural resources, but our economy works on the assumption that there will always be enough workers to support those aging out of the system. If the population continues to decline, programs like Social Security will be sucked dry and future generations will be working until they die of exhaustion at age 80.

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We also need workers right now. The unemployment rate is low, but there are labor shortages across the country, especially in fields like agriculture and health care, and these jobs can and should be filled by immigrants if they want them. There's a reason industrialists like the Koch brothers favor lax immigration—because it benefits industry—and while some economic leftists will argue that immigration is fundamentally a way for capitalists to keep wages down (which is true), it's also true that immigrants both need jobs and take jobs that Americans are unwilling to do because they're just too damn hard. Have you tried picking strawberries lately? It might be fun at some bucolic u-pick farm in the country for a half hour, but try doing it in 100-degree temperatures for 10 hours and get back to me.

Not only do immigrants do the hardest, most back-breaking jobs in America, they do it while paying taxes. In 2015, for instance, undocumented immigrants alone paid at least $23.6 billion in income taxes, which funds social services that they cannot even use. We shouldn't be deporting these people; we should be thanking them and giving them green cards.

Immigration, both documented and not, is a vital part of the American economy. Trump, a businessman, should know this, and I suspect that he does. But spreading the rhetoric that America is being invaded by immigrants is a campaign tactic, one that preys on the worst of human instincts: fear of the other. Unfortunately, it may actually work.