The Trump administration unveiled a sweeping rule on Monday that some experts say could cut legal immigration in the United States in half, Reuters reports.
Under the new rule, which will take effect Oct. 15, authorities can reject applicants for temporary or permanent visas if the applicants fail to meet high enough income standards or if they receive public assistance such as welfare, food stamps, public housing or Medicaid, according to the report.
The rule is part of Trump’s efforts to curb both legal and illegal immigration, an issue he has made a cornerstone of his presidency.
After the rule was announced, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) said it would file a lawsuit to stop it from taking effect. The group’s executive director said the rule was racially motivated. The state attorneys general of California and New York threatened to sue.
The 837-page rule, seeking to target those who could become “public charges” in the United States, could be the most drastic of all the Trump administration’s policies targeting the legal immigration system, experts have said.
It could deny visas to people for not making enough money or who are drawing public benefits.
The government estimates the status of 382,000 immigrants could immediately be reviewed on those grounds.
Immigrant advocates fear the real number could be much higher, especially if the rule is extended to the millions of people who apply for US visas at American consulates around the world.
“This is an end run around Congress to achieve through executive fiat what the administration cannot get through Congress,” said Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless, a pro-migrant group that helps families navigate the US immigration system.
The rule is intended to scare immigrants away from using public benefits to which they are legally entitled, Rand said, adding that a study by Boundless found it could eliminate more than half of visa applicants.
Other immigrant advocates have expressed concern the rule could negatively affect public health by dissuading immigrants from using health or food aid. The Trump administration estimates its rule will save US$2.47 billion annually in spending on public benefits.
The rule is derived from the Immigration Act of 1882, which allows the US government to deny a visa to anyone likely to become a “public charge.”
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at a White House media briefing that the law has always required foreign nationals to rely on their own resources, with help from relatives and sponsors, but the term “public charge” was never clearly defined.
“That is what changes today with this rule,” Cuccinelli said.
The new rule defines public charge as an immigrant who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months within any 36-month period.
The definition of public benefits is cash aid including Supplemental Security Income, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, most forms of Medicaid, and a variety of public housing programs, officials said.
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