Democrats Pan Proposal to Limit Green Cards for Poor Immigrants

Administration touts rule as moving toward ‘merit-based’ immigration

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that “those seeking to immigrate to the United States must show they can support themselves financially.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic lawmakers are criticizing a new rule proposed by the Trump administration that would make it harder for immigrants who receive public benefits to obtain green cards.

The 447-page proposed rule, unveiled by the Department of Homeland Security on Saturday, would expand the government’s ability to deny a green card — and eventual citizenship — to applicants deemed likely to rely on programs including Medicaid, Section 8 low-income housing, and food stamps. The proposed rule represents a significant step in the administration’s efforts to move toward a “merit-based” immigration system, rather than the family-based system currently in place.

“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. “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.

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said the proposal “is nothing but a cynical ploy to divide and distract us from all of the ways in which the administration is actually squeezing the middle-class.”

In a news release, Nadler accused Trump of seeking “to distract Americans from this legacy by fueling racial resentment and division with his constant attacks on minorities and immigrants.”

Immigration advocates described the proposal as an effort to limit access to citizenship for poor immigrants.

In a statement, the American Immigration Council said the proposal, if finalized, could dissuade immigrants from applying for citizenship if they’ve ever received public benefits even though doing so would not be an automatic disqualifier.

“These lengthy and technical changes to longstanding regulations would obstruct those whose only desire is to work hard and be with their family,” said Beth Werlin, the Council's executive president. “Many people now would be forced to choose between accessing the assistance they and their children need now or securing permanent legal immigration status to be with their families in the future.”

The proposed rule will not take immediate effect. Once DHS publishes it in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to submit comments, after which DHS will published a revised version.

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