Washington D.C., USA : The Trump administration on Saturday proposed a rule that immigrants who are in the United States legally, as well as those wanting to come to the country, may be denied visas or green cards if they have ever used public assistance like Medicaid, food stamps or public housing.
Earlier versions of the proposal included more draconian measures, such as limiting green cards and citizenship for immigrants who had used Obamacare or certain tax credits.
“The [disqualifying] benefits generally represent the largest federal programs for low-income people by total expenditure that address basic living needs such as income, housing, food, and medical care,” a spokeswoman for DHS said in a written briefing.
Proposed disqualifying benefits would also include the Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy and vouchers for Section 8 Housing.
Immigrants who receive more than $1,821 annually, 15 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, in benefits that can be monetized would also be disqualified from receiving green cards and visas.
The new proposal also would clarify that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid (with limited exceptions) are to be “heavily weighed negative factors,” although the rules already applied to these forms of assistance.
Current U.S. immigration laws limit those who are likely to be dependent on financial aid. That ruling, known as a “public charge,” began in the 1800s as a way to deny immigrants entry to the United States if they were likely to become a drain on the economy.
The proposed rule would allow immigration officials to refuse admission and deny extensions to those who might become “public charges.” Although those applying for more permanent status always had to prove they will not be a burden, the new proposition would also take programs like food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers into account.
The term “public charge” first appeared in the Immigration Act of 1882 and was the most common ground for refusing admission at ports of entry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1999, the Immigration and Naturalization Service proposed a definition for “public charge,” which was defined as an alien who has become or likely will become “primarily dependent” on the government for subsistence, as demonstrated by either the receipt of public cash assistance for income maintenance or institutionalization for long-term care at government expense.
Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who signed the proposal Friday, said it would push immigrants either to be self-sufficient or to rely on their family or the business that’s sponsoring them to be in the U.S. for help, rather than to take assistance from the government.
Those who do end up taking taxpayer-funded benefits could be denied the ability to gain citizenship — and the rules also apply prospectively, meaning the government would be able to refuse adjustments of status for immigrants whom officials deem likely to become a “public charge.”
Homeland Security says the government stands to save nearly $20 billion over the next decade in benefits it will no longer have to pay out.
“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” said Ms. Nielsen. “This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
Immigrant-rights advocates had been awaiting the move with trepidation, and were quick to blast the new proposal.
“Trump wants you to think Latinos and immigrants are r****s and murderers, they vote illegally against him, they are lazy and at the same time are stealing American jobs. Today he’s selling the lie that immigrants weaken the U.S. economy when exactly the opposite is true,” said Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat.
He said the proposal goes beyond GOP opposition to illegal immigration and puts Republicans on record as favoring restrictions on legal immigrants, too.
Marielena Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center said how a person contributes to their community, not the contents of their wallet, should be what matters the most.
“This proposed rule does the opposite, and makes clear that 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,” Hincapie said.
U.S. law has long envisioned immigrants being self-supportive, dating back to provisions in the late 1800s. But in recent years they’ve rarely been enforced — and the Clinton administration wrote rules limiting the types of programs that are considered when deciding whether an immigrant is a public charge.
From five major national sources of immigration to the U.S., just three people were cited for being public charges in the years from 2013 to 2015. And just one of those cases was actually sustained by immigration judges.
Under the Clinton rules, the government only looked at cash assistance welfare payments, Social Security and Medicaid benefits. The new proposal would add food stamps, public housing and long-term institutionalized care to the list.
Disaster relief, assistance to immigrants serving in the armed forces or their families, and emergency medical care would not count against a immigrant under the Trump administration’s proposal.
The proposal will be published in the Federal Register soon. After the proposal, there will be a 60-day comment period during which the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will continue to apply the current public charge policy.
Image : Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen