A new proposal being drafted by the Trump administration would reportedly allow immigration officials to consider an immigrants’ use of government programmes when deciding whether or not to grant them permanent status.
The draft rule, seen by Reuters, is a sharp departure from current US law, which prevents immigration officials from taking immigrants’ use of public benefits like food assistance and health insurance subsidies into account when reviewing their application. The rule would not apply to permanent residents seeking citizenship, but would affect the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who apply for permanent status in the US each year.
The proposed rules, drafted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), argue that legal immigrants who use public programmes are a burden on the state.
“Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the US government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organisations,” the document states, according to Reuters.
It continues: “An alien’s receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for aliens to immigrate to the United States.”
The draft rule has not yet been approved by top leadership. The DHS did not return a request for comment.
Alvaro Huerta, a staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Centre, called the draft proposal "breathtaking in its scope and cruelty".
"This would severely restrict the ability of certain immigrants' families to be able to get by," he told The Independent.
Approximately 1.3m non-citizens used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) programme, previously known as food stamps, in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Department of Agriculture.
In early 2017, the Washington Post reported that food banks were seeing a decline in the number of immigrants applying for SNAP, and an increase in immigrants withdrawing from the programme. Advocates said many immigrants feared it would affect their citizenship or permanent residency applications.
“I get calls from concerned parents all the time: ‘Should I take my kids out of the program?’ They’re risking hunger out of fear … and my heart just breaks for them.” Luisa Fortin, the SNAP Outreach Coordinator for the Chattanooga Food Bank, told the Post at the time.
The DHS draft rules would be consistent with Mr Trump’s push to drastically cut legal immigration to the US. Just last month, the president unveiled an immigration plan that experts said would result in the biggest proposed reduction to legal immigration in decades.
The programme would end so-called “chain migration,” preventing US citizens to sponsor relatives from outside the country for a green card. It would also end the diversity visa lottery system, which allows people from countries with low representation in the US to immigrate to the country.
Mr Huerta said the latest draft rule from the DHS marked yet another attempt by the Trump administration to curtail legal immigration.
"Ultimately this is trying to limit family based immigration," he said. "This is trying to make it more difficult to come to the country lawfully, and really – for lack of a better way to say it – make America white again."