Trump administration may target immigrants who use food aid, other benefits

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is considering making it harder for foreigners living in the United States to get permanent residency if they have received certain public benefits such as food assistance, in a move that could sharply restrict legal immigration.

The Department of Homeland Security has drafted proposed new rules seen by Reuters that would allow immigration officers to scrutinize a potential immigrant's use of certain taxpayer-funded public benefits to determine if they could become a public burden.

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For example, U.S. officials could look at whether the applicant has enrolled a child in government pre-school programs or received subsidies for utility bills or health insurance premiums.

The draft rules are a sharp departure from current guidelines, which have been in place for nearly two decades and specifically bar authorities from considering such non-cash benefits in deciding a person's eligibility to immigrate to the United States or stay in the country.

"Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the U.S. government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organizations," the document states. "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."

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Female detainees read about a hunger strike at the Tacoma immigration detention center as they sit in a dormitory at the Adelanto immigration detention center, which is run by the Geo Group Inc (GEO.N), in Adelanto, California, U.S., April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "ICE NICHOLSON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
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An ICE detainee lies in his cell in the segregation wing at the Adelanto immigration detention center, which is run by the Geo Group Inc (GEO.N), in Adelanto, California, U.S., April 13, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson SEARCH "ICE NICHOLSON" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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Receiving such benefits could weigh against an applicant, even if they were for an immigrant's U.S. citizen children, according to the document.

In 2016, nearly 383,000 people who would be subject to the new standards obtained permanent residence while already in the United States. The rules would not apply to permanent residents applying for citizenship, but would apply to a wide range of people living or working in the United States, including close family members of U.S. citizens and workers employed by U.S. companies.

A spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS agency responsible for implementing the regulations, declined to comment on a regulation still under consideration.

The draft rule has not yet been approved by top leadership.

Current guidance instructs immigration officers to look at a narrow range of public benefits in trying to determine whether someone is likely to become a burden, specifically directing officers not to consider most non-cash benefits, such as government food assistance programs or preschool programs.  

The new rules, if adopted in their current form, would significantly change these guidelines. Under the draft rules, a person would be considered a "public charge" if they depend on "any government assistance in the form of cash, checks or other forms of money transfers, or instrument and non-cash government assistance in the form of aid, services, or other relief," according to the document.

 

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)

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