New Trump rules could deny green cards to immigrants on public assistance

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The Trump administration issued a rule that would disqualify legal immigrants from permanent residency if they use certain public-assistance programs and block prospective applicants deemed likely to need them.

The rule, issued by the Department of Homeland Security, is one of the most sweeping elements of the administration’s bid to create what officials described as a tighter, more discerning U.S. immigration system. Critics of the regulation said it could hurt poor immigrants and result in widespread confusion in migrant communities. Democratic state attorneys general are expected to challenge the rule in court. Federal law already requires those seeking green cards and legal status to prove they will not become a “public charge,” or a burden on the U.S. But the new rules, outline a broader range of programs that could disqualify them. Officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

“We certainly expect anyone of any income to stand on their own two feet,” Cuccinelli said. “A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient. Many have been throughout the history of this country, so let’s not look at that as the be-all and end-all.”President Trump has kept his effort to crack down on illegal immigration in the spotlight and central to his reelection campaign in 2020. But the new rules represent a significant escalation of a quieter but farther-reaching effort to reduce legal immigration, with Cuccinelli and others led by immigration hard-liner Stephen Miller.

Immigrant integration is an important public benefit to the state, he said. Labor participation rates among immigrants are extremely high, and public assistance is an important gateway to reaching integration, he added.

“What California’s economy needs is to integrate immigrants as quickly as possible,” he said. “As soon as immigrants become legal and become citizens they dramatically increase their productivity and ability to add to the economy.” According to a December survey by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, nearly 14% of 1,950 adults who were foreign- born or living with foreign-born family members reported avoiding participating in public benefits in the last year because of their concerns about future legal status.

Laurel Lucia, director of the healthcare program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, says the new policy could have a damaging effect on the California and U.S. economies. Many in California who already have a green card or have become citizens may decide to dis-enroll from public benefits like Medi-Cal or CalFresh out of fear for what the policy may mean for themselves and family members, causing a chilling effect on the economy, she said.

“When these Californians dis-enroll, that means fewer federal dollars coming into the state supporting not only our healthcare system but our whole economy,” Lucia said. Nationwide, 544,000 people apply annually for green cards, on average, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to the review as laid out under the new rules, according to the government.

Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is “more likely than not” to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone has two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Following publication of the proposed rules last fall, Homeland Security received 266,000 public comments, including from lawmakers and mayors — more than triple the average number for a rule change at the agency, and a record, according to advocates.

Green-card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. And if immigrants have private health insurance, that will weigh heavily in their favor.

Active U.S. military members are exempt. So are refugees or asylum seekers, and the rules would not be applied retroactively, officials said.

“Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children and parents,” said a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel.

The new rules come at a time of increased criticism over Trump’s hard-line policies and his rhetoric, which opponents say have helped provoke deadly violence. ”The biggest users of social services are non-immigrants, something which seems to be lost in the government narrative of public assistance that propels a view that the policy defends native workers,” Hinojosa-Ojeda said. “This is an attempt to divide the ‘worthy’ and the ‘unworthy,’ putting the immigrants in the ‘unworthy’ category. We would be locking out people from pathways forward.”

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