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President Trump is about to enact another change in federal immigration policy that could negatively impact many lives.

Current practices define as “public charge” immigrants who benefit from cash-based assistance (“welfare checks”) and can make them ineligible for eventual U.S. citizenship. Under the new proposal, legal immigrants who are already living here could be denied a “green card” and future permanent residency if they or a member of their families use Medicaid, food stamps, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, low-income tax credits, and a broad array of state and federal social services.

Such a policy change, which could become permanent this year, would pressure thousands of immigrants to drop out of our health system, like prenatal care, immunizations, nutritional programs, birth control, and other mental health and medical services. Preventing any segment of our population from accessing health care when it is most needed undermines basic public health and would increase future costs to society.

Most immigrants work hard, pay taxes, are healthier, and have a lower crime rate than average Americans. Our own National Academy of Sciences recently reported that, within one generation of being here, the immigrant population contributes significantly more to our national wealth than it draws from public services. However, those who oppose immigrants consider them as a drain on taxpayer-funded benefits that should go to U.S. citizens. This view of “America First” takes a myopic view of what America is, badly disguises the darker side of our tribalism, and makes no economic and medical sense.

Chinh Le, M.D.

Corvallis (Aug. 6)