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Endangered Species

The would-be immigrants who are poor, like the plants and animals that were formerly protected by the The Endangered Species Act, have no chance.

The threatened northern spotted owl

The threatened northern spotted owl. (Photo: Frank D. Lospalluto/flickr/cc)

Self -interest speaks all sorts of tongues, and plays all sorts of roles, even that of disinterestedness.
— Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Reflections

He hit a double. It all happened the week of August 11, 2019. That was the week the trump took steps to reduce protections for two endangered species. In each case the decision was made because in one case it was going to make it easier for certain taxpayers to make money, and in the other it was going to save all taxpayers money. It was a trump-type win-win.

The first group was wildlife. The headline in the Wall Street Journal said: “Endangered Species Act Protections Eased.” The New York Times headline said “U.S. Weakens Law Protecting Species at Risk.”

The Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973 by President Richard Nixon. It has been considered the bedrock conservation law in the country. As reported in the WSJ: “The Endangered Species Act has been credited for reviving iconic animals such as the bald eagle and the humpback whale.” The change in the rules are described as the most sweeping changes to the law since it was first enacted.

Trumpites say this action will make regulations less burdensome and will let the public see what went into a decision that declares that a species is endangered or not endangered. It removes blanket protection for threatened animals and plants. Whereas formerly, any species that was at risk of becoming endangered was entitled to the same protection as a species that had already been declared endangered, the new regulations say this will be done on a case by case basis. The regulations also shorten the time frame in which the determination may be made. As now in force, threats to a species in the “foreseeable future” are enough to require protection. Trumpites have changed the concept of “foreseeable future.” Threats are evaluated on a case by case basis, and only threats that are “likely” to occur can be considered to be in the foreseeable future. This will make it easier for new mining, oil and gas drilling, and other kinds of development to take place on land formerly off limits because of potential effects on protected species. Power plant owners, manufacturers and pipeline companies are reportedly delighted with the changes. Those concerned with the welfare of the planet, and the plants and creatures on it, less so.

The other change in policy that was announced affects another endangered species in the United States-the immigrant. The economic impact of admitting immigrants into the United States or permitting those already here to remain, gave rise to the new policy. Just as redefining “endangered species” permits a relaxation of rules protecting them, redefining the words “public charge” when considering immigrants living in the U.S. and those seeking to enter the country, has the same effect.

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For many years those who legally immigrated and lived here as non-citizens have been able to apply for green cards which, when given, gave them permanent residency status in the United States. Although in theory the question of whether or not the individual involved might become a public charge could be considered, the concern about someone becoming a “public charge” was rarely invoked. The same applied to those seeking to enter the country.

The trumpsters now want to (a) reduce the number of legal immigrants who enter the country and, (b) make it more difficult for immigrants already living in this country to qualify for green cards or continue living here. The new rules expand what is meant by being a “public charge.” It now includes those who, while living here avail themselves of public housing, Medicaid services, food stamps and certain other kinds of public assistance. Those availing themselves of those benefits may find their applications for green cards will be denied because they are deemed public charges. It is thought that the new rule will probably disqualify more than 900,000 immigrants now living here from obtaining permanent residency.

Immigrants wanting to enter the country who are likely to need that kind of public assistance will be denied entry into the country because of the broadening use of “public charge.”

Describing the new rule, Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services said the new rule “is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility.” Explaining the new rule and putting it in historical context he said, in an interview on NPR, that the poem on the Statue of Liberty should be rewritten to provide “Give me your humble and your poor who can stand on their own two feet” thus replacing the notion of welcoming those yearning to be free.

There is, of course, a difference between the endangered species of the non-human variety and the human variety. The non-human endangered species can do absolutely nothing to alter their status. The immigrant may be able to preserve the ability to get a green card by not seeking medical help when sick, not seeking public assistance to get housing or food for the family, to name just a few of the ways that immigrants already here can enhance their chances of being permitted to stay here permanently by not being considered “public charges.” The would-be immigrants who are poor, like the plants and animals that were formerly protected by the The Endangered Species Act, have no chance. That is the kind of country trump has created.

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli

Christopher Brauchli is a columnist and lawyer known nationally for his work. He is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Colorado School of Law where he served on the Board of Editors of the Rocky Mountain Law Review. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

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