The Trump administration is continuing its effort to restrict immigration, this time by proposing a new set of rules that could deny green cards to legal immigrants who receive public benefits. The new rules could affect those who receive food assistance, housing vouchers, and Medicare subsidies, to name a few of the benefits that could be affected. The White House is justifying the move as a way to limit immigrants who would be considered to be a drain on the economy. But the timing also suggests the administration considers there could be an electoral upside to pushing a tough message on legal—as well as illegal—immigration.
The proposal, which will be open to a period of public comment before being implemented, amounts to a rewriting of a 1999 rule. Under that regulation, those receiving cash benefits have a lower chance of receiving a green card. But it didn’t take other non-cash benefits into account. 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 Department of Homeland Security said in a news release. Any changes are likely to result in court challenges.
In a tweet, the American Civil Liberties Union said the move amounted to a “new attempt to kick and keep immigrants out of our country and attack people with disabilities.” Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Centre, characterized the plan as “another cruel step” by the Trump administration that has made its priorities clear when it comes to which immigrants are valued. “The Trump administration continues to prioritize money over family unity by ensuring that only the wealthiest can afford to build a future in this country,” she said in a statement.
Immigrant advocates immediately raised concern that even mentioning the proposed new rule could push low-income immigrants to avoid requesting public benefits out of fear that it could jeopardize their chances of receiving a green card in the future. Although the move shouldn’t affect those who already have green cards, advocates are also concerned they will stop using public benefits to be on the safe side. And those who would most likely be affected would be children of immigrants who are in the United States legally.
“This would force families—including citizen children—to choose between getting the help they need and remaining in their communities,” said Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The last thing the federal government should do is punish families that have fallen on hard times for feeding their children or keeping a roof over their heads and avoiding homelessness.”