Trump Administration Aims to Restrict Green Cards for Immigrants Using Public Benefits

A naturalization ceremony last month in Miami. Immigration caseworkers will now consider immigrants’ use of public benefits to determine if green card candidates are likely to become dependent on government assistance.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administration deems a drain on the country.

The move could force millions of poor immigrants who rely on public assistance for food and shelter to make a difficult choice between accepting financial help and seeking a green card to live and work legally in the United States.

Older immigrants, many of whom get low-cost prescription drugs through the Medicare Part D program, could also be forced to stop participating in the popular benefits program or risk being deemed a “public charge” who is ineligible for legal resident status.

The move is not intended to affect most immigrants who have already been granted green cards, but advocates have said they fear that those with legal resident status will stop using public benefits to protect their status. The regulation, which the administration said would affect about 382,000 people a year, is the latest in a series of aggressive crackdowns by President Trump and his hard-line aides on legal and illegal immigration.

Federal law has always required those seeking green cards to prove they will not be a burden and has taken into consideration the acceptance of cash benefits. But the government has never before considered the use of other public benefits, like assistance for food.

Now, the new regulation — announced on the Department of Homeland Security website — will require that immigration caseworkers consider the use of public benefits to be “heavily weighed negative factors” for those who are applying to remain legally in the country on a permanent basis. Those who are deemed likely to become dependent on government assistance will probably be denied.

The rule would affect people seeking to immigrate to the United States permanently and others who are in the country on temporary visas — including students and workers — who seek to stay permanently.

Immigrants could be asked in limited cases to post cash bonds of at least $10,000 to avoid being denied green cards under the new regulation, which does not need congressional approval but must still go through a public review process before it becomes final. Officials said they expected the regulation to become final after being posted to the Federal Register in the coming weeks and undergoing the 60-day review period.

In a news release, the Department of Homeland Security said 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 447-page rule, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” will not apply to families making less than 15 percent of the official poverty designation, officials said.

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SOURCE: New York Times, Michael D. Shear and Emily Baumgaertner