Aid pol­icy is set for im­mi­grants

Need for ben­e­fits a neg­a­tive


WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion will make it harder for im­mi­grants in the coun­try legally who rely on gov­ern­ment ben­e­fit pro­grams, such as food stamps and sub­si­dized hous­ing, to ob­tain per­ma­nent le­gal sta­tus.

The move is part of a far-reach­ing new pol­icy aimed at al­ter­ing the flow of le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and shift­ing to the ad­mit­tance of wealth­ier im­mi­grants.

Un­der the new rule, the financial well-be­ing of im­mi­grants who are in the United States legally on tem­po­rary visas will be more heav­ily scru­ti­nized when they seek a green card. An ap­pli­cant who speaks English, shows for­mal let­ters of sup­port

and has pri­vate health in­sur­ance would be more likely to be ap­proved than some­one whose eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion sug­gests they would prob­a­bly need hous­ing vouch­ers or en­roll in Med­i­caid in the future.

Ken Cuc­cinelli, the act­ing di­rec­tor of U.S. Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, said at a White House brief­ing Mon­day that his agency is seek­ing to bring precision to an ex­ist­ing tenet of law — known as “pub­lic charge,” or bur­den on the U.S. — that has lacked a clear def­i­ni­tion.

“Through the pub­lic charge rule, Pres­i­dent Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is re­in­forc­ing the ideals of self-suf­fi­ciency and personal re­spon­si­bil­ity, en­sur­ing that im­mi­grants are able to sup­port them­selves and be­come suc­cess­ful here in Amer­ica,” said Cuc­cinelli, evok­ing his own fam­ily’s Ital­ian an­ces­try to char­ac­ter­ize pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of im­mi­grants as boot­strap-pullers. “This ad­min­is­tra­tion is pro­mot­ing our shared his­tory and en­cour­ag­ing the core val­ues needed to make the Amer­i­can dream a re­al­ity.”

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates, how­ever, warned that vast num­bers of im­mi­grants, in­clud­ing those not ac­tu­ally sub­ject to the reg­u­la­tion, may drop out of needed ben­e­fits pro­grams be­cause they fear retri­bu­tion by im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties.

“This news is a cruel new step to­ward weaponiz­ing pro­grams that are in­tended to help peo­ple by mak­ing them, in­stead, a means of sep­a­rat­ing fam­i­lies and send­ing im­mi­grants and com­mu­ni­ties of color one mes­sage: You are not wel­come here,” said Marie­lena Hin­capie, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter.

The Los An­ge­les-based cen­ter said it would file a law­suit, call­ing the new rules an at­tempt to re­de­fine the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem “in or­der to dis­en­fran­chise com­mu­ni­ties of color and fa­vor the wealthy.”

David Sko­r­ton, pres­i­dent and CEO of the As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Med­i­cal Col­leges, crit­i­cized the move, say­ing,

“The con­se­quences of this ac­tion will be to po­ten­tially ex­ac­er­bate ill­nesses and in­crease the costs of care when their con­di­tion be­comes too se­vere to ig­nore.”

The move is part of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sys­tem­atic ef­fort to add new bu­reau­cratic ob­sta­cles to the U.S. im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem at the same time the pres­i­dent wants to put phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers along the Mex­ico bor­der. The ad­min­is­tra­tion has slashed the num­ber of refugees ad­mit­ted to the United States, tight­ened ac­cess to the asy­lum sys­tem and ex­panded the power of the gov­ern­ment to de­tain and de­port mi­grants who lack le­gal sta­tus.

An­a­lysts say the pub­lic charge change could dra­mat­i­cally re­duce fam­ily-based le­gal im­mi­gra­tion to the United States, par­tic­u­larly from Latin Amer­ica and Africa, where in­comes are gen­er­ally lower than the rest of the world. It also could lead to an in­crease in de­por­ta­tions as those present with some form of pro­vi­sional or tem­po­rary im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus in the United States are de­nied le­gal res­i­dency.

Ad­vo­cates for im­mi­grants say the new rule could ef­fec­tively block im­mi­grants who live in poverty from hav­ing a chance at nat­u­ral­iza­tion. Nat­u­ral­iza­tion ap­pli­ca­tions spiked dur­ing the 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, which some called the “Trump ef­fect” be­cause many im­mi­grants were ea­ger to vote.

Cuc­cinelli said the change would ben­e­fit U.S. tax­pay­ers by select­ing bet­ter can­di­dates for U.S. ci­ti­zen­ship, by en­sur­ing “that our im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is bring­ing peo­ple to join us as Amer­i­can cit­i­zens, as le­gal per­ma­nent res­i­dents first, who can stand on their own two feet, who will not be re­liant on the wel­fare sys­tem, es­pe­cially in the age of the mod­ern wel­fare state, which is so ex­pan­sive, and ex­pen­sive, frankly.”

The rule cir­cum­vents ear­lier, failed ef­forts by the ad­min­is­tra­tion to build sup­port in Congress for a sim­i­lar “merit-based” over­haul to the im­mi­grant visa sys­tem, and it ful­fills a long­time goal of se­nior Trump ad­viser Stephen Miller and other im­mi­gra­tion hawks who have sought new tools to re­duce im­mi­gra­tion lev­els.

U.S. Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices ap­proved more than 638,000 green-card ap­pli­cants in 2018, a five-year high. The U.S. State Depart­ment is­sued an ad­di­tional 533,000 im­mi­gra­tion visas last year to ap­pli­cants abroad, mostly to the fam­ily mem­bers of U.S. cit­i­zens and le­gal res­i­dents.

The 837-page rule, whose length Cuc­cinelli com­pared to War and Peace, goes into ef­fect in 60 days.

“With one reg­u­la­tion, they are at­tempt­ing to scratch two itches: One is pe­nal­iz­ing im­mi­grants for us­ing pub­lic ben­e­fits that they are legally en­ti­tled to, and the other is cut­ting le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in half,” said Doug Rand, a for­mer of­fi­cial in Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion and an im­mi­gra­tion con­sul­tant. “And the way you cut le­gal im­mi­gra­tion in half is by kick­ing the doors out from the def­i­ni­tion of ‘likely to be­come a pub­lic charge.’”

Im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials said the pol­icy will not be ap­plied retroac­tively to those who have used ben­e­fits in the past; it will ap­ply only those who re­ceive tax­payer-funded ben­e­fits af­ter the rule takes ef­fect in mid-Oc­to­ber.

The rule also will not ap­ply to the fam­ily mem­bers of U.S. cit­i­zens who re­ceive ben­e­fits, im­mi­gra­tion ser­vice of­fi­cials said, so a par­ent of a U.S. cit­i­zen would not be deemed in­el­i­gi­ble on the ba­sis of the child’s re­ceipt of hous­ing as­sis­tance or sub­si­dized food. The pol­icy would not ap­ply to hu­man­i­tar­ian pro­grams for refugees and asy­lum re­cip­i­ents.

Other types of pub­lic ben­e­fits will be ex­cluded from con­sid­er­a­tion, agency of­fi­cials said, in­clud­ing stu­dent loans, school-based pro­grams like Head Start, and Med­i­caid for mi­nors and preg­nant women.

Im­mi­gra­tion ser­vice of­fi­cials said the re­vised stan­dards would ap­ply to nearly 400,000 peo­ple seek­ing to ad­just their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus per year, but the agency did not have an es­ti­mate of the to­tal num­ber of im­mi­grants who would po­ten­tially be de­nied res­i­dency and other ben­e­fits.

Ac­cord­ing to an As­so­ci­ated Press anal­y­sis of cen­sus data, low-in­come im­mi­grants who are not cit­i­zens use Med­i­caid, food aid, cash as­sis­tance and Sup­ple­men­tal Se­cu­rity In­come, or SSI, at a lower rate than com­pa­ra­ble low-in­come na­tive-born adults.

Nonci­t­i­zen im­mi­grants rep­re­sent 6.5% of those par­tic­i­pat­ing in Med­i­caid and 8.8% of those re­ceiv­ing food as­sis­tance.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Abi­gail Haus­lohner, Nick Miroff, Maria Sac­chetti and Tracy Jan of The Washington Post; by Michael D. Shear and Eileen Sul­li­van of The New York Times; and by Colleen Long and Jill Colvin of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

The New York Times/T.J. KIRKPATRIC­K

Ken Cuc­cinelli, act­ing di­rec­tor of U.S. Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, said Mon­day that the pol­icy pro­posal is about “re­in­forc­ing the ideals of self-suf­fi­ciency and personal re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

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