Opinion | Would my grandfather be allowed into the U.S. today? Would yours?

About a century ago, my grandfather Morris Tobocman immigrated to Detroit from Poland to pursue the American Dream. He had almost no formal education, arrived penniless, and knew no English. Like so many immigrants - both during Detroit’s ascendance into one of America’s great cities and those arriving today - he worked with his hands (originally as a tinsmith) and did well enough to put two sons through architecture school at the University of Michigan.

Morris Tobocman, seated on the left, and his wife, Anna, standing behind him, immigrated to the U.S. from Poland knowing no English and having few skills. Their family story is a classic in America, and one that is threatened by new immigration policies.

It’s an American story shared by tens of million of American families and it’s a story essential to our nation’s and region’s character and future. Unfortunately, under new immigration rules that the Trump Administration announced last week, that story may no longer be possible and, as a result, Detroit and Michigan’s economic future lay in jeopardy.

The draft regulation announced Sept. 21 would drastically change the rules governing “public charge,” an existing, but extremely rare, portion of immigration law that allows immigration officials to reject legal immigrants’ visa and green card applications for those who are unable to establish self-sufficiency. The current “public charge” definition is so narrow that the government almost never rejects applications on those grounds. The Trump Administration’s proposed expansion of the definition would explicitly authorize immigration officials to withhold green cards from applicants who utilize any number of government aid programs to which they are legally entitled (albeit on a restricted basis), including food assistance, health care, and housing vouchers.

Steve Tobocman is director of Global Detroit

The proposed regulation even allows officials to reject visa applications from new immigrants wishing to pursue the American Dream because they believe an immigrant might conceivably utilize one of those government supports someday in the future.

Many observers believe the proposed rule is an end run around the Congress to vastly reduce legal immigration. The Trump Administration has indicated its support for proposed legislation to halve the number of legal immigrants allowed into the U.S. - a reduction of approximately one half million new entrants per year.

The “public charge” proposal raises serious questions about our national character. Facts debunk the myth that U.S. social service programs are overburdened by immigrants or that immigrants only come to the U.S. to live off the generous social safety net. Already a large number of social service programs are out of reach of legal immigrants until they have resided in the U.S. for five years, while undocumented immigrants are barred from almost any form of public support. In Michigan, according to the Migration Policy Institute, immigrants comprise 7 percent of the recipients of welfare, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), food stamps, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) between 2014-2016—an amount roughly equal to their share of Michigan’s population.

In Detroit, according to U.S. Census data, immigrants are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to be working, and less likely to receive any form of public assistance. Forcing hard-working immigrant families, who are a backbone to numerous American industries, to choose between receiving food stamps, health care, or affordable housing and attaining a green card is a slap in the face to the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty and detracts from President Ronald Reagan’s vision of an America that “is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” It simply reflects a meanness and me-first attitude that tarnishes our history as a generous nation.

Make no mistake about how a vastly expanded “public charge” test would be used to drastically reduce legal migration. All you need to do is ask any practicing immigration lawyer in America today about how the Trump Administration is already aggressively rejecting legal visa applications of immigrants, including skilled immigrants, on grounds never tried by previous Republican and Democratic administrations and that stretch the imagination of existing law in an effort to turn immigrants away.

Drastically reducing legal migration would have particularly negative impacts on our economy.

There is ample evidence from Japan’s experience of a “Lost Decade” - which really reflects 20 years of economic decline and stagnation in Japan’s gross domestic product and wages - that an aging population without migration has devastating economic impacts.

These are very real issues here in Michigan. In the 2010 Census, Michigan was the only state in America to have lost population, after our own version of a “Lost Decade.” And while our population has grown by 45,000 new residents between 2010-2015, all of that growth has been due to immigration (with over 64,000 new arrivals during that time).

In Detroit, where Mayor Mike Duggan has stated that population growth is the single most important metric by which he should be judged, the immigrant population has grown over 15 percent since 2010 (in part because of policies and efforts that Mayor Duggan, the Detroit City Council, and nonprofit agencies like Global Detroit, the organization that I lead, have put into play), while the overall population has declined 5 percent. Immigrants - many of whom would likely fail the proposed “public charge” test - are revitalizing Detroit neighborhoods in Southwest Detroit, Banglatown, and other communities along the Hamtramck and Dearborn borders. They are occupying once-vacant housing, rehabbing units, reviving dormant commercial retail strips, providing much-needed consumer spending and tax dollars, and even creating jobs as entrepreneurs.

New migrants - even those who have received or may one day receive public assistance - are incredibly important drivers of economic growth, workforce stability, and prosperity for our region. While refugees (and other special immigration classifications like asylees and victims of domestic violence) are exempt from the “public charge” test, they often arrive - like my grandfather Morris Tobocman did a century ago - without much evidence that they will never need public support and, thus, would fail the proposed test if it were applied to them. Yet, research by Global Detroit and the University of Michigan Ford School of Public Policy documents that the last decade of refugee resettlement in Southeast Michigan contributed some $250 million annually to the regional economy in 2016 alone.

Immigrants targeted by the new regulation are critical components to Michigan’s aging workforce needs. Currently over 16 percent of Michiganders are senior citizens, nearly double the portion from 1970. Yet, Michigan’s immigrant residents are 27 percent more likely than U.S-born Michiganders to be of working age, not to mention the facts that they have higher birth rates. Already Michigan immigrants comprise nearly 20 percent to 30 percent of crop production workers and between 15 percent and 25 percent of many service industry sectors. (They also happen to comprise 30 percent of the physicians and surgeons, 28 percent of the software development workers, and 22 percent of the mechanical engineers. And while those highly-skilled workers are far less likely to fail the proposed “public charge” test, the green cards they seek for their relatives back home and the opportunity for Michigan to build a welcoming environment to attract global talent is severely threatened under this proposal.)

President Trump’s “public charge” proposal will keep out, kick out, and punish hard-working immigrants. The proposal threatens much of what has contributed to Michigan economic recovery and the future growth and prosperity of our region. Drastically expanding the “public charge” not only is harsh to immigrants, it’s a recipe for sluggish growth, particularly to the Michigans of the world.

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Tue, 10/16/2018 - 12:30pm

There is more to the Michigan economy than immigration, although immigration in some ways does effect the economy negatively. How many non-immigrant college graduates are forced to leave Michigan because of the lack of suitable jobs. Many of the larger corporations are using immigrants to staff themselves because they can get away with paying less. Each job staffed in this way is one less that a non-immigrant can have.

During the mass immigration in the early 1900’s, immigrants strove to assimilate into life as an American, and English became their primary language. No longer true today with store signage in the language of the area only, and foreign language being required for government, school, and local documents.

Wanting a better life, but not having anything to give to make lives better, is not a reason to allow immigration. It is also unfair to the many legal immigrants who bring knowledge and capability, and assimilate into their new surroundings.

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 1:02pm

You usually are on target, but not here. Do you really think Americans want their kids to do the jobs done by mostly immigrant labor, let alone the kids themselves? Agricultural work, food processing, roofing, hotel house keeping, businesses are dying trying to fill these positions. Native born kids will not take them, neither will the kids of immigrants for that matter. This will be a big problem for our future.

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 1:45pm

It’s my understanding that President Trump only wants to allow immigrants who are self sufficient. Interesting that self sufficient immigrants will more likely take the high paying jobs that many are seeking—engineers, IT professionals, doctors. I don’t know how many US born youth want to wash dishes, pick cash crops, or work in gas stations.
I do agree that immigrants should learn English and yet be able to speak their native language freely as did my German/ Prussian born grandfather.

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 12:51pm

" Forcing hard-working immigrant families ... to choose between receiving food stamps, health care, or affordable housing and attaining a green card is a slap in the face to the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty... It simply reflects a meanness and me-first attitude that tarnishes our history as a generous nation. "
Well then, how about we offer the same welfare benefits as were offered at the time that the Statue of Liberty was erected? Oh wait, that was nothing!!!!

Robert Mack
Tue, 10/16/2018 - 1:26pm

The Bridge only promotes the incorrect dimocrap view! If Mr Tobocman and his family came to America today the same way he came 100 years ago, he would be complying with America's
immigration laws and would be welcomed, just as he and and millions more have been.
They came legally with a visa, went thru the immigration process which included learning about America, some English language, pledged allegiance to America and disavowed allegiance to the land they came from. But they also had to have a sponsor. They could not come to America and live on welfare. There wasn't any. They had to make their own way or be returned. It's the law of the land. President Trump did not change that!
It should be the same today. No illegals, no amnesty, no welfare and allegiance to America only or return to country of origin at their own expense!

Wed, 10/17/2018 - 3:18pm

No one continued reading after 'dimocrap'

Thomas E Graham
Tue, 10/16/2018 - 1:48pm

I was enjoying your article until you proclaimed "28 percent of the software development workers" are immigrants.
I am a computer programmer. I know PLENTY of programmers displaced by less expensive H1B "consultants". Stating the consequence of businesses like Google and FaceBook abusing the H1B visa program is not convincing anyone to your argument, in fact just the opposite.
According to the US Bureau of labor Statistics, the number of programming jobs is expected to decrease 7% by 2026, so an even LARGER glut of foreign programmers. We don't need to provide H1B work visa's because there is no real demand. H1B is being abused as a wage control. We need to severely curtail the abuse of the genius visa.

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 2:22pm

Case need dire help pronto:
father din Uf M hospital dyeing..
Son what to come ands him .before he..
American Embassy I Romania will/wont.. grant a 3 weeks visa to see his father.
contacted Rep.D Dingell but no success, any help. my phone 734 589 7209

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 2:25pm

The 2020 census is coming.no people nO Money from Washington.
so rebuild the home and lest settle people IN.
donot lose that money

Tue, 10/16/2018 - 2:28pm

Foreign Student come and how many stay? are they all employed or just "living " off the dole.
other factors .childsupport enforcement only 20% of mother get there checks?
why is there a big surplus......?????

Thu, 10/18/2018 - 8:54pm

Well said, Mr. Tobocman.

Fri, 10/19/2018 - 4:32pm

Mr. Tobocman tries applying his Grandfather’s history to today by ignoring the context of history. He fails to consider the differences from then to now, the population, the quality of life and what living entailed, what was necessary to survive and that survival was success. Why does he fail to acknowledge that what society needs today is more than in history, what we expect for medical care compared to what was good care then, what is housing today compared to housing then, what employers provide to succeed and need from employees today compare to what companies provided then and what they needed from employees to succeed.
Mr. Tobocman seems to avoid mentioning how critical education is in today’s society, he ignores the struggles of those in America without graduating high school and how important post high school learning is to personal success and quality of life. His Grandfather lacked education then and Mr. Tobocman doesn’t see that as a concern today.
At best, Mr. Tobocman is wearing those proverbial ‘rose colored glasses’ if he thinks today is the same as when his Grandfather came to America. He seems to be glamorizing the struggles and lower quality of life of his Grandfather to fit his view. At worse Mr. Tobocman may be arguing for a return to history when quality of life was survival, working hard was using a strong back working long hours 7 days a week, life expectancy was much lower than when people plan to retire today, when the quality of live gap was significantly greater.
Mr. Tobocman romanticizes a ‘simpler life’ a hundred years ago by ignoring the extreme contrasts of life then and now, and he seems to do this for political convenience.

Fri, 11/16/2018 - 11:54am

Duane, you suggest that the quality of life was not as good a century ago because people had fewer things and needed less education than today to get a job. Mr. Tobocman pointed out that his grandfather came with a trade and put his 2 sons through college. I knew those 2 sons who came out of school and designed and built some of the most beautiful homes in the area.
It has also been pointed out that immigrants fill many jobs that US born individuals will not touch. This has always been the case. (How far would you have to go back in your family’s history to find your immigrant ancestors, and what work did they do?) In another 50-100 years, education, technology, and standard of living will be different from today. I don’t think that’s really a part of this issue as there will always be grunt jobs and elite jobs, they just change as we all learn more. In my opinion, we are all immigrants except the native Americans and immigrants with a desire to improve their lives, or at least their children’s lives, have been the backbone of this nation for centuries.

Chuck Fellows
Sun, 10/21/2018 - 8:12am

Trump and his allies implement policies that promote "I got mine, screw you." attitude. Preserving America for those already here .
Well folks, that leads to what Mother Nature identifies as a mono-culture; Mother Nature abhors mono cultures and drives them extinct. It takes time but that is the inevitable conclusion. Is that the myopic view you endorse? All the political and economic BS in these comments, in the long term is just short term greed and self centered behavior.

Tue, 10/23/2018 - 11:31pm

Don't you subscribe to Darwin's theory of natural selection? Are you saying that the most successful of a species will cause its extinction if they don’t mate with the least successful of species?
If you look around, the birds seem to mate with only their own and try to find the strongest, most attractive to propagate their species. That seems true of each type of animal. It appears that the 'mono cultures', at least in the wild, thrive by propagation of the strongest, largest, and most successful.
Evolution seems driven by competition and success in that competition. Human competition has given us the abundance that others seem to envy, and that competition in America has moved from the physical to the knowledge and skills. Successes in the places that offer the most envied lifestyles are those where people with the knowledge and skills are applying them most effectively succeed. Those you seem to feel we need most are those who are least prepared and least aware of the 'jungle' they want to move to. I am afraid the least prepared at best can hope for is to become wards of the state.
How do you define 'greed'? How do you define 'self-centered'? All indications are Americans, on a per capita basis, are the most charitable giving in the world, are the most creative, are the most friendly, so why are you so willing to condemn and belittle the people of America that have a different view than yours?
How do you decide on taking in the people on this march when you see the conditions people in California are living in, the tent cities along public roads, health conditions [that are spreading typhus cases?]
You seem to avoid looking at the whole picture of such mass invasions, seeing only pictures on TV. You seem to ignore the health concerns and risks they are coming from, the lack of medical care such as vaccinations, ignoring the cultural differences and social shock they face, you seem to fail to look at the long-term impact on them and on the communities they will enter.
Why don't you ask why people are concerned, and what are their concerns? If you fail to consider the unintended consequences of your choices than expect greater risks and hardships far beyond what those few thousand you are seeing on TV are experiencing. What if this new polio like virus that is showing up in the US is arriving here from south of our border in people who lack vaccinations, who live in environments where this virus grows and are making uncontrolled entry into the US? How many in that few thousand on TV could be a 'carrier' and could that put 10s of thousands in the US at risk?