New rules on green cards to deny many mi­grants

Hope­fuls who use pub­lic as­sis­tance will be turned away

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Colleen Long and Jill Colvin

WASHINGTON — The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced Mon­day it is mov­ing for­ward with one of its most ag­gres­sive steps yet to re­strict le­gal im­mi­gra­tion: Deny­ing green cards to many mi­grants who use Med­i­caid, food stamps, hous­ing vouch­ers or other forms of pub­lic as­sis­tance.

Fed­eral law al­ready re­quires those seek­ing to be­come per­ma­nent res­i­dents or gain le­gal sta­tus to prove they will not be a bur­den to the U.S. — a “pub­lic charge,” in gov­ern­ment speak — but the new rules de­tail a broader range of pro­grams that could dis­qual­ify them.

It’s part of a dra­matic over­haul of the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been work­ing to put in place, de­spite le­gal push­back.

While most at­ten­tion has fo­cused on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ef­forts to crack down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing re­cent raids in Mis­sis­sippi and the con­tin­ued sepa­ra­tion of mi­grant par­ents from their chil­dren, the new rules tar­get peo­ple who en­tered the United States legally and are seek­ing per­ma­nent sta­tus.

Trump is try­ing to move the U.S.

to­ward a sys­tem that fo­cuses on im­mi­grants’ skills in­stead of em­pha­siz­ing the re­uni­fi­ca­tion of fam­i­lies.

Un­der the new rules, U.S. Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices will now weigh whether ap­pli­cants have re­ceived pub­lic as­sis­tance along with other fac­tors such as ed­u­ca­tion, in­come and health to de­ter­mine whether to grant le­gal sta­tus.

The rules will take ef­fect in midOc­to­ber. They don’t ap­ply to U.S. cit­i­zens, though im­mi­grants re­lated to the cit­i­zens may be sub­ject to them.

Ken Cuc­cinelli, act­ing di­rec­tor of Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices, said the rule change will en­sure those who come to the coun­try don’t be­come a bur­den, though they pay taxes.

“We want to see peo­ple com­ing to this coun­try who are self-suf­fi­cient,” Cuc­cinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the Amer­i­can Dream. It’s deeply em­bed­ded in our his­tory, and par­tic­u­larly our his­tory re­lated to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion.”

Mi­grants make up a small per­cent­age of those who get pub­lic ben­e­fits. Many are in­el­i­gi­ble for such ben­e­fits be­cause of their im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus.

Im­mi­grant rights groups strongly crit­i­cized the changes, warn­ing the rules would scare im­mi­grants away from ask­ing for needed help.

They voiced con­cern the rules give of­fi­cials too much author­ity to de­cide whether some­one is likely to need pub­lic as­sis­tance in the future.

The Los An­ge­les-based Na­tional Im­mi­gra­tion Law 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 CEOof the As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­i­can Med­i­cal Col­leges said, “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,”

“This change will worsen ex­ist­ing health in­equities and dis­par­i­ties, cause fur­ther harm to many un­der­served and vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions and in­crease costs to the health care sys­tem over­all, which will af­fect all pa­tients,” he said in a state­ment.

Cuc­cinelli de­fended the move, in­sist­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion was not re­ject­ing longheld Amer­i­can val­ues.

Pressed on the Emma Lazarus poem em­bla­zoned be­low the Statue of Lib­erty that reads: “Give me your tired, your poor, your hud­dled masses yearn­ing to breathe free,” he told re­porters at the White House: “I’m cer­tainly not pre­pared to take any­thing down off the Statue of Lib­erty.”

A new Pew Re­search Cen­ter sur­vey re­leased Mon­day found the Amer­i­can pub­lic is broadly crit­i­cal of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s han­dling of the wave of mi­grants at the south­ern bor­der, with nearly twothirds of Amer­i­cans — 65% — say­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is do­ing a very bad or some­what bad job.

The sur­vey found broad sup­port for de­vel­op­ing a path­way to le­gal sta­tus for im­mi­grants liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally.

On av­er­age, 544,000 peo­ple ap­ply for green cards ev­ery year, with about 382,000 fall­ing into cat­e­gories that would be sub­ject to the new re­view, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment.

Guide­lines in use since 1999 re­fer to a “pub­lic charge” as some­one pri­mar­ily de­pen­dent on cash as­sis­tance, in­come main­te­nance or gov­ern­ment sup­port.

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 uses two ben­e­fits, that is counted as two months.

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, the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment re­ceived 266,000 pub­lic com­ments, more than triple the av­er­age num­ber.

It made a se­ries of amend­ments to the fi­nal rules as a re­sult.

For ex­am­ple, women who are preg­nant and on Med­i­caid or who need pub­lic as­sis­tance will not be sub­ject to the new rules dur­ing preg­nancy or for 60 days af­ter giv­ing birth. The Medi­care Part D low­in­come sub­sidy also won’t be con­sid­ered a pub­lic ben­e­fit. And ben­e­fits re­ceived by chil­dren un­til the age of 21 won’t be con­sid­ered. Nor will emer­gency med­i­cal as­sis­tance, school lunch pro­grams, foster care or adop­tion, stu­dent loans and mort­gages, food pantries, home­less shel­ters or dis­as­ter re­lief.

Ac­tive U.S. mil­i­tary mem­bers are also ex­empt, as are refugees and asy­lum­seek­ers. And the rules will not be ap­plied retroac­tively, of­fi­cials said.

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

The new pub­lic as­sis­tance thresh­old, taken to­gether with higher re­quire­ments for ed­u­ca­tion, work skills and health, will make it more dif­fi­cult for im­mi­grants to qual­ify for green cards, ad­vo­cates say.


Act­ing di­rec­tor of Ci­ti­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion Ser­vices Ken Cuc­cinelli said the rule change will en­sure those who come to the coun­try don’t be­come a bur­den.

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