New rules for green cards tar­get those on public aid

Law al­ready says qualifiers must prove they won’t be a bur­den.

Austin American-Statesman - - NATION & WORLD - Michael D. Shear and Emily Baumgaertner

WASH­ING­TON — Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials an­nounced Sat­ur­day that im­mi­grants who legally use public ben­e­fits like food as­sis­tance and Sec­tion 8 hous­ing vouch­ers could be de­nied green cards un­der new rules aimed at keep­ing out peo­ple the ad­min­is­tra­tion deems a drain on the coun­try.

The move could force mil­lions of poor im­mi­grants who rely on public as­sis­tance for food and shel­ter to make a dif­fi­cult choice be­tween ac­cept­ing fi­nan- cial help and seek­ing a green card to live and work legally in the United States.

Older im­mi­grants, many of whom get low-cost pre­scrip- tion drugs through the Medi- care Part D pro­gram, could also be forced to stop par­tic- ipat­ing in the pop­u­lar ben­e­fits pro­gram or risk be­ing deemed a “public charge” who is in­el­i­gi­ble for le­gal res­i­dent sta­tus.

The move is not in­tended to af­fect most im­mi­grants who have been granted green cards, but ad­vo­cates have said they fear that those with le­gal res­i­dent sta­tus will stop us­ing public ben­e­fits to pro­tect their sta­tus. The reg­ula- tion, which the ad­min­is­tra­tion said would af­fect about 382,000 peo­ple a year, is the lat­est in a se­ries of ag­gres- sive crack­downs by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his hard-line aides on le­gal and il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.

Fed­eral law has al­ways re­quired those seek­ing green cards to prove they will not be a bur­den and has taken into con­sid­er­a­tion the ac­cep­tance of cash ben­e­fits. But the gov­ern­ment has never be­fore con­sid­ered the use of other public ben­e­fits, like as­sis­tance for food.

Now, the new reg­u­la­tion — an­nounced on the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity web­site — will re­quire that im­mi­gra­tion case­work­ers con­sider the use of pub- lic ben­e­fits to be “heav­ily weighed neg­a­tive fac­tors” for those who are ap­ply­ing to re­main legally in the coun­try on a per­ma­nent ba­sis. Those who are deemed likely to be­come de­pen­dent on gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance will prob- ably be de­nied. Im­mi­grants could be asked in lim­ited cases to post cash bonds of at least $10,000 to avoid be­ing de­nied green cards un­der the new reg­u­la­tion, which does not need con­gres­sio- nal ap­proval but must still go through a public re­view pro­cess be­fore it be­comes fi­nal. Of­fi­cials said they ex­pected the reg­u­la­tion to be­come fi­nal af­ter be­ing posted to the Fed- eral Reg­is­ter in the com­ing weeks and un­der­go­ing the 60-day re­view pe­riod.

In a news re­lease, the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity said the new rule would “en­sure that those seek­ing to en­ter and re­main in the United States ei­ther tem­po­rar­ily or per­ma­nently can sup­port them­selves fi­nan­cially and will not be re­liant on public ben­e­fits.”

The 447-page rule, ti­tled “Inad­mis­si­bil­ity on Public Charge Grounds,” will not ap­ply to fam­i­lies mak­ing less than 15 per­cent of the offi- cial poverty des­ig­na­tion, of­fi­cials said.

Pro-im­mi­grant ac­tivists pre­dict that poor im­mi­grants will im­me­di­ately be­gin with­draw­ing from public as­sis- tance pro­grams — even at the risk of los­ing needed as­sis­tance for food, shel­ter and medicine — out of a fear that they will be de­nied green cards and will be de­ported.

There are po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions to the move, which comes less than two months be­fore the midterm elec­tions, which will de­ter­mine who con­trols the House and the Se­nate for the next two years of Trump’s ten­ure.

Fo­cus­ing on the use of public ben­e­fits is of­ten an ef­fec­tive way to gal­va­nize con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers. Draw­ing at­ten­tion to the use of those ben­e­fits by im­mi­grants could be an es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive way to turn out Trump’s sup­port­ers across the coun­try.

Stephen Miller, the pres­i­dent’s top im­mi­gra­tion ad­viser, has long be­lieved that be­ing tough on im­mi­grants is a win­ning tac­tic for Repub­li­can can­di­dates who too of­ten — in Miller’s view — have com­pro­mised with Democrats on the is­sue. He has pushed hard for the new rule dur­ing the past sev­eral months.

But the breadth of the ef­fect on im­mi­grants could also en­er­gize lib­eral vot­ers to sup­port Demo­cratic can­di­dates. In New York, for ex­am­ple, city of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that un­der an ear­lier draft of the reg­u­la­tion, which was leaked to the news me­dia, nearly 1 mil­lion peo­ple could be hurt.

They said the chil­dren of im­mi­grants who are in the United States legally could be the most vul­ner­a­ble. In­deed, im­mi­grant par­ents who work low-wage jobs and rely on as­sis­tance may need to re­move their chil­dren from the pro­grams to keep their fam­i­lies to­gether in the United States. Unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants are in­el­i­gi­ble for nearly all public ben­e­fits.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say the rule is in­tended to pro­mote fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity.

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