Civil rights groups object to curbs on green card

If implemented, new rules could cut off those who have used public benefits


Ritu Jha


South Asian civil rights organizations and advocacy groups have condemned the Trump administration proposal to sharply restrict new green cards or visas for those using public benefits, They called on Congress to block the implementation of such a “cruel and counterproductive policy.”

Saturday, September 22 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials announced the proposal that is to take effect after a 60-day period for public comments.

If it is implemented, immigration officials could deny an application for a visa, permanent residence or a change or extension of status if the foreign applicant has accepted certain public benefits or seen as likely to need such benefits in the future.

Lakshmi Sridaran, director of national policy and advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together, said this rule would impact immigrants who use government services such as nutrition programs and housing assistance. It would also weigh age, health, and employability as factors to deny green cards. It cab hit South Asian communities particularly hard, since over 10 percent of green card recipients in FY 2016 came from abroad.

She told indica this covered any federal public benefit, including tax-payer funded welfare, health, housing, education, or nutrition programs, which can be in the form of cash and non-cash assistance.

Under the “public charge” rule announced on Saturday, cash assistance — such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and comparable state or local programs as well as government-funded long-term institutional care like Medicaid are the programs most likely subject to evaluation for green cards.

“By criminalizing immigrants through this rule, we mean that the federal government would evaluate a person’s use of certain federal public assistance programs to determine if this person is eligible for a green card, Sridaran said. “The immigrant must earn at least 125 percent of the Federal Poverty Level and an immigrant family must earn at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to be weighed as “heavily positive.”

This means, to avoid scrutiny under the public charge test, a family of 4 would need to earn nearly $63,000 annually. The rules would also negatively consider applicants with limited English proficiency, as well as applicants with physical or mental health conditions that could affect their ability to work, attend school or care for themselves.

The rule is not retroactive so it will not cancel someone’s existing green card, she said. While it does not expand grounds for deportability, people deemed inadmissible as a “public charge,” because of their income or a health condition may be required to pay a minimum of $10,000 for admission, and would risk losing this bond if they use any benefits listed in the rule.

“This most definitely impacts the Indian-American community. A recent Migration Policy Institute study found that 2.3 million—over half – of 4 million non citizens with legal status and who arrived in the past five years live in families with incomes below $62,000 annually,” She said.” Of these, more than half a million (550,000) are Indian-American.”

The new rule would also apply a similar “public charge” test to applications for extensions of non-immigrant visas, and changes of non-immigrant status (for example, from a student visa to an employment visa).

The DNS does not track immigrants who become welfare dependent and only attempted to remove one welfare-dependent alien in 2012; a case that was ultimately dropped.

In a statement, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

“Trump’s cruel and counterproductive policy proposal is just another component of a multifaceted effort by a white supremacist and xenophobic administration to prevent the ‘browning’ of America.

“Whether it is the Muslim Ban, the border wall, family separations at the border, or a historically-low refugee cap, this administration is using every means at its disposal to block the entry of those who – like Donald Trump’s own ancestors – seek a better life in our nation.

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