Photo: AP

The Trump administration’s assault on the poor and on immigrants are distinct campaigns to exacerbate the suffering and cruelty already doled out by the government to marginalized groups—campaigns that often intersect. Politico reported yesterday that one policy proposal aimed at both groups—making it more difficult for immigrants to get green cards by penalizing those who have previously used any form of public benefits, including insurance subsidies and tax credits—is already discouraging immigrants from applying for programs they need before it’s even on the books.

Stephen Miller, the Trump administration’s Man From Another Place but scarier, has been pushing that policy since March, but as CNN reported last month, “concerns over potential lawsuits have delayed the final rule.” But the Trump administration has discovered one weird trick to get around the slow implementation of policy in government: All they need to do is leak to the press that they’re considering it, and people will be too afraid to use the programs in question.

Politico interviewed more than a dozen providers in the WIC program (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children program), which helps low-income mothers buy baby formula and food. Most of the providers told Politico they’ve already seen people drop out of the program out of fears that it could come to affect their immigration status:

An agency in Longview, Texas, reported it’s losing an estimated 75 to 90 participants per month to public charge fears. In Beacon, N.Y., an agency estimated it’s lost 20 percent of its caseload. In St. Louis, Mo., a provider said it’s seen a few dozen drop in the last year.

The WIC program keeps babies alive. According to a 2017 review by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, WIC improves infant survival, nutrition, immunization rates, and access to healthcare. Making immigrant families afraid to use WIC will also affect American-born child of immigrants:

Because it benefits babies, the vast majority of whom are U.S.-born citizens, WIC is among the least politically controversial programs that the administration is said to be targeting in its crackdown.

“The big concern for all of us in the WIC community is that this program is really about growing healthy babies,” said Rev. Douglas Greenaway, president and CEO of the National WIC Association.

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Your initial reaction might be that this administration, with its vile America First logic, would surely not want to harm American children. But no—the white nationalists that infest this White House don’t really see these children as American because they’re born to immigrants. Recall that an ex-Trump White House official wrote a whole Washington Post op-ed arguing for the end to birthright citizenship. They don’t care if an American baby goes hungry; under this policy, it’s most likely to be a non-white baby, so they would probably care even less.

Like the administration’s other most abominable immigration policy moves, this is more torture than deterrent, as most of the people affected are already here. All it will do is further deter people who would otherwise have applied for legal status—doing things the “right way,” as we’re always told—from doing so, forcing them to live in the shadows. It this is already making families fearful that using programs to help them keep their children healthy is already having this kind of an effect, just imagine what will happen if it is actually enacted.