If immigrants use a Section 8 housing voucher or buy groceries with SNAP, this revised regulation could label that person a “public charge” — a dependent on the government — and the Department of Homeland Security could deny her or him a green card. Further, if an immigrant left the United States for an extended period (perhaps to care for an ailing parent), the public charge label could also result in being permanently denied reentry.
Today, people who have immigrated here, like my parents, are facing another targeted, xenophobic attack. The Trump administration, which has already implemented a travel ban against five majority-Muslim countries — including Iran — and locked immigrant children in cages, proposed a new rule this month that would punish legal immigrants for accessing basic needs programs.
In this case, the new blueprint would radically shift the government’s definition of immigrants classified as “public charges,” meaning burdens to public resources. That classification would make them ineligible for many visas and green cards, which confer nearly every privilege of citizenship except voting in federal elections. And it would do so in a rulemaking end run around Congress, which would have no say in modifying or approving the new policy.
On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security proposed a rule that would enable it to deny green cards and visas to immigrants here legally who have used public health and nutrition assistance, including Medicaid and food stamps.
″It’s an opportunity to fuel the nativist fire and scapegoat immigrants as a drain on our economy,” said Wendy Cervantes, senior policy analyst for the Center for Law and Social Policy, a nonpartisan organization that works to improve the lives of low-income people.
The U.S. government has almost always had a rule against legal permanent resident status for anyone who might become a “public charge,” meaning someone who is likely to wind up on welfare. The proposed rule, which will not take effect for at least 60 days and is subject to change, would broaden the criteria the government can use to deny applicants.
“Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, adding that the proposed changes would “promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers.”
Donald Trump’s antipathy to immigrants has been a defining feature of his rise to power and his presidency. He has focused much of that ire, personally and in his policies, on undocumented immigrants. But there are signs he wants to target documented immigrants, too. In February, Reuters reported that the Department of Homeland Security was “considering making it harder for foreigners living in the United States to get permanent residency if they or their American-born children use public benefits such as food assistance.”
New York City officials estimated that at least a million people here could be hurt by this plan, warning that the children of immigrants seeking green cards would be most vulnerable.