(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration on Monday continued its crackdown on immigration with a new rule that could block immigrants from getting green cards if they’ve used government benefits or are found likely to use them.
The 837-page regulation -- known as a “public charge” rule -- likely will fall hardest on low-income legal immigrants who perform much of the country’s menial labor on farms and in the service industry.
The rule replaces current policy that says immigrants shouldn’t receive more than half their income from cash benefits, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Supplemental Security Income from Social Security.
Under the new more expansive definition, immigrants aren’t supposed to use public benefits like Medicaid, public housing assistance, or food stamps for more than 12 months over a 36 month period. If they do, they risk being categorized as too reliant on government services.
“We certainly expect someone of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli told reporters Monday at the White House.
President Donald Trump has focused on cracking down on migrants -- one of his signature issues -- for months as his 2020 re-election campaign intensifies. The regulation, which takes effect in 60 days, has been a priority of Trump’s hard-line aide Stephen Miller.
Last week, the administration said more than 30,000 migrants had been sent to Mexico to await immigration court proceedings as part of a program expanded under a June 7 deal between Mexico and the U.S.
Under the new rule, the U.S. will scrutinize applications for legal permanent residency from about 400,000 people a year to determine whether they’re likely to become a public charge, Cuccinelli said.
The administration’s approach likely will reshape the racial and ethnic demographic of immigration to the U.S. The Migration Policy Institute, an advocacy group, released data Monday showing about 70% of recent legal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, the Caribbean and Africa had incomes below 250% of the federal poverty line.
“This is really in my perspective an attack on working middle class immigrant families being able to live in the United States,” Ur Jaddou, who served as chief counsel of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Obama administration and is director of the non-profit DHS Watch said in an interview.
Opponents argue the new rule will both make it harder for lower-income immigrants to remain in the country and potentially scare people from using benefits to which they’re legally entitled. They said that because the government evaluates both whether someone has used public benefits in the past and whether they’re likely to in the future, even those who don’t rely on assistance could be denied.
The text of the Trump administration’s rule said it wasn’t designed to “discriminate against aliens based on age, race, gender, income, health and social status.”
Cuccinelli said the rule offers clarity to government agents who evaluate immigrants’ applications, and makes it easier for those seeking permanent residency in the U.S. to understand the consequences of using public benefits.
Challening the Rule
Legal challenges to the new rule are likely. The National Immigration Law Center said Monday it planned to file a lawsuit against the administration. Santa Clara County, California, Counsel James Williams also issued a statement his office was reviewing the rule and exploring “all legal options” to prevent a negative effect on the community.
“The rule will sow fear in immigrant communities and lead many immigrants who are here legally -- and their families -- to forgo needed health coverage, nutrition assistance and housing assistance they are eligible for,“ said Bob Greenstein, president of of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Some proponents of the rule said it’s a step in the right direction but may not significantly cut immigration. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group seeking to limit immigration, said the administration should limit the number of applications and increase education and skills standards.
“I’m skeptical this is going to have much of an effect,” Krikorian said in an interview. “We need Einstein-type immigration rather than people who just have a B.A.”
Cuccinelli said there would be specific exemptions for the most vulnerable populations, including children and pregnant mothers. And some programs, including student loans, won’t be counted negatively for immigrants who use them. He also said immigrants could avoid the evaluation of their likely use of public benefits by finding a sponsor willing to sign an affidavit saying they would reimburse the government for the use of public services.
(Updates with comment from former immigration official in 10th paragraph.)
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