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Trump Finalizes Rule to Punish Immigrants for Using Public Benefits

The new rule could force low-income immigrants to choose between vital assistance and permanent residency.

President Trump speaks to members of the press from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on August 9, 2019.

The Trump administration on Monday finalized a rule that could deny permanent residency — or “green cards” — to immigrants who have received public benefits such as food stamps and housing assistance, a move rights groups condemned as an attack on low-income families that could have “a dire humanitarian impact.”

According to CBS News, the long-anticipated policy “would require caseworkers to consider the use of government housing, food, and medical assistance such as the widely-used Section 8 housing vouchers, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare’s Part D prescription drug coverage” when examining permanent residency applications.

The 837-page rule (pdf), CBS reported, “would subject immigrant households who fall below certain income thresholds to the ‘public charge’ test — which would also consider how well applicants speak, read, and write English. Under the proposed rule, any diagnosed medical condition that requires extensive medical treatment would also ‘weigh heavily’ in evaluations by caseworkers.”

Immigrant rights groups that denounced the plan when it was first unveiled in September raised alarm on Monday and vowed to take legal action against the Trump administration to stop the rule, which is now set to take effect in 62 days.

Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, called the regulation “a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them, instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: you are not welcome here.”

“This latest racially-motivated policy is a painful reminder that behind [President] Donald Trump’s bluster, bureaucrats like [top adviser] Stephen Miller will stop at nothing to attack immigrants and destroy our legal immigration system,” Hincapié said in a statement. “It will have a dire humanitarian impact, forcing some families to forego critical life-saving healthcare and nutrition. The damage will be felt for decades to come.”

Advocacy organizations and legal experts have warned that the Trump administration’s rule — which the New York Times described as a “top priority” of Miller — could force low-income immigrants to choose between vital public assistance programs and the security of permanent residency.

As The Associated Press reported, rights groups are also “concerned the rules give too broad an authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance at any time, giving immigration officials the ability to deny legal status to more people.”

On Twitter, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) called the policy a “bald-faced attack on immigrant families” and vowed to resist.

“Trump’s public charge rule is a xenophobic and classist attack on immigrants,” said NYIC. “It won’t go into effect until October 15, and we’ll keep fighting it so all immigrants can lead healthy and safe lives.”

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