Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.
Photo: Cliff Owen (AP)

Continuing its efforts to target some of society’s most vulnerable people, the Trump administration announced Saturday it will seek to deny green cards to immigrants who are likely to use public assistance, including housing vouchers and food subsidies.

Critics of the policy proposal say it will primarily affect poorer immigrants and force them into making a terrible choice between seeking aid or legal residency and work in the United States.

According to The New York Times, “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.”

In announcing the proposal, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said, “Under long-standing federal law, those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially,” according to a statement on the DHS website. She added, “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.”

The claim that immigrants become “burdens” on taxpayers is largely a myth. As The Washington Post points out:

Out of the 41.5 million immigrants living in the United States, 3.7 percent received cash benefits in 2013, and 22.7 percent accepted noncash benefits including Medicaid, housing subsidies or home heating assistance, according to statistics compiled by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The percentages of native-born Americans who get the same forms of assistance are nearly identical. In 2015, 3.4 percent of 270 million nonimmigrant Americans received cash welfare payments, USCIS research found, and 22.1 percent received noncash subsidies.

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DHS said that about 382,000 immigrants per year would be affected by the stricter reviews, which would look at not only an immigrant’s potential use of public aid, but also that of family members living in the U.S. Refugees, asylum-seekers, and others would be exempt from the policy changes.

However, more than 600,000 people who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, benefits could be affected if they file for permanent residency, the Post said.

According to the Times, “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.”

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According to DHS:

The public benefits proposed to be designated in this rule are federal, state, local, or tribal cash assistance for income maintenance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid (with limited exceptions for Medicaid benefits paid for an “emergency medical condition,” and for certain disability services related to education), Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), institutionalization for long-term care at government expense, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and Public Housing. The first three benefits listed above are cash benefits that are covered under current policy.

In comments to the Times, National Immigration Law Center policy analyst Jackie Vimo called the proposal “an attack on immigrant families and an attempt to make our immigration system a pay-to-play system where only the wealthy need apply.”

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National Low Income Housing Coalition President Diane Yentel told the Post, “The last thing the federal government should do is punish families that have fallen on hard times for feeding their children or keeping a roof over their heads and avoiding homelessness.”

The 447-page proposal will be published in the Federal Register in coming weeks and then would be open to 60 days of public comments, the newspaper said.