In the most recent installment in the crackdown on immigration, the Trump administration announced they will be denying visas to immigrants who cannot prove they can afford health care. This proclamation comes in conjunction with the planned expansion of DNA testing on immigrants detained near the federal border. This testing is separate from the rapid DNA testing used to prove parentage to detect potential traffickers who pose as family members of children in order to avoid prolonged detention. Rather, this new testing will be used to provide extensive DNA profiles of potential convicts, and the results will be shared with other United States law enforcement agencies.
Both policies are deeply rooted in negative stereotypes of immigrants, and such measures can seriously harm a marginalized population that is already vulnerable to various forms of xenophobia. Through these policies, President Donald Trump characterizes the U.S. as an elite nation that is exclusive and intolerant of underprivileged, low-income and non-Caucasian populations. The implementation of these policies is an extension of the Trump administration’s callous treatment of immigrants, particularly those from Latin American countries. Moreover, the process of immigrating to the U.S. is already extraordinarily difficult. The addition of further obstacles, such as the health insurance requirement, show a profound insensitivity to the fraught immigration process.
Effective on Nov. 3, 2019, this proclamation will allow consular officers to deny visas for those who do not have approved health insurance or those who cannot prove their financial ability to afford health care in the U.S. This proclamation will also disqualify immigrants who already live in the country and applied for subsidized coverage, rendering their status illegal. The Trump administration has justified this classist policy with the claim of “protecting American taxpayers” and “promoting self-sufficiency” among immigrants. By using health care — a basic human right millions of Americans already struggle to afford — as a litmus test to assess one’s eligibility to be American is both exploitative and unjust. It implies that only those who enjoy financial privileges are allowed to become American citizens and furthers the elitist and racist undertones in American immigration policies.
Similarly, the DNA testing policy evokes a sense of class stigma that aggravates the racialized immigration policies of our border. The implementation of DNA collection was initially permitted through the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, but the detainees were exempt from the law due to an agreement by the Obama administration — until now. To justify this measure, the Trump administration has cited whistleblower complaints that accused the Customs and Border Protection of failing to comply with the act to fully carry out DNA collection. Nevertheless, the policy provides no basis for such infringement of personal privacy and equates immigrants to dangerous criminals.
In addition, since most of the DNA pool will be composed of Latinx individuals from the Southern border, it subscribes to and furthers the incorrect conception that a disproportionately large number of criminals are Latinx. This policy also raises concerns regarding the government’s extensive usage of technology and the limits — or lack thereof — of such innovation. While providing security for our own citizens, these technologies are also capable of surveilling an exploited population. This is akin to what we have seen in the Xinjiang province of China with regard to the Uighur Muslims or the Chechnya crackdown on LGBTQ individuals. Vera Eidelman, a staff lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, said to the New York Times, “(this) kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation basically to population surveillance, which is basically contrary to our basic notions of a free, trusting, autonomous society.”
The administration’s announcement of these new policies does not necessarily mean they will actually come to fruition, but their mere proposal holds weight. On paper, these policies are meant to curb illegal immigration. In reality, they will simply make the legal immigration process much more difficult and disincentivize legal immigration. The accompanying statement to these proposals contains the phrasing that too many non-citizens were taking advantage of the U.S.’s “generous public health programs” and that immigrants augment the country’s “uncompensated health care costs.” This manner of thinking further vilifies the immigrant population, clearly using them as a scapegoat for the massive health care crisis in the U.S.
Additionally, the collection of DNA from migrants crossing U.S. borders provides no tangible benefit to U.S. society and thus only further demonizes those seeking to immigrate to the U.S. In these instances, Trump is simply reaffirming his campaign promises of removing all undocumented immigrants and limiting legal immigration. Policies such as these ones only deepen the divide between “desirable” and “undesirable” populations in the U.S. in already extremely divisive times. Any effort to curb legal immigration is the antithesis of what American values were meant to stand for.
The U.S. has stigmatized its immigrant populations for the majority of its history, as demonstrated by the formation of the Know-Nothing Party in 1849 against Irish and German immigrants, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Acts and 1924’s Johnson-Reed Act, which limited immigrants from all over the world — except Asia, which was completely excluded. These policies are just a modern iteration of anti-immigrant ideals against another group. They are far from the first to show a preference for white, high-income immigrants. Under the current administration, the rhetoric used against Latinx populations has been racist, fear-mongering and xenophobic. Policies like the DNA collection and health care registration are meant to criminalize Latinx immigrants and will do nothing to address the influx of illegal immigration on the border. Though it is likely these new policies will be challenged in some capacity before they go into effect, the attempt to implement them is a grossly offensive attack on legal immigration.