The Trump administration is expected to issue a proposal in coming weeks that would make it harder for legal immigrants to become citizens or get green cards if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare, four sources with knowledge of the plan told NBC News.
Immigration lawyers and advocates and public health researchers say it would be the biggest change to the legal immigration system in decades and estimate that more than 20 million immigrants could be affected. They say it would fall particularly hard on immigrants working jobs that don’t pay enough to support their families.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said: “The administration is committed to enforcing existing immigration law, which is clearly intended to protect the American taxpayer by ensuring that foreign nationals seeking to enter or remain in the U.S are self-sufficient. Any proposed changes would ensure that the government takes the responsibility of being good stewards of taxpayer funds seriously and adjudicates immigration benefit requests in accordance with the law.”
Miller, along with several of his former congressional colleagues who now hold prominent positions in the Trump administration, have long sought to decrease the number of immigrants who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year. And even before the rule is in place, the administration has made it more difficult for immigrants to gain green cards and for green-card holders to gain citizenship.
Data from the first quarter of fiscal year 2018 indicates that the administration is on track for a decline in immigrants granted green cards by 20 percent. Data for the first two quarters of fiscal year 2018 for immigrants obtaining naturalized citizenship shows little change compared to the same period of 2016. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says they expect naturalization numbers to rise in the latter half of the year based on previous trends.
Though its effects could be far-reaching, the proposal to limit citizenship to immigrants who have not used public assistance does not appear to need congressional approval. As the Clinton administration did in 1999, the Trump administration would be redefining the term “public charge,” which first emerged in immigration law in the 1800s in order to shield the U.S. from burdening too many immigrants who could not contribute to society.
Rosemary Jenks, executive vice president of NumbersUSA, which promotes limited immigration, said the new rule and the increased scrutiny around green card and citizenship applications are all part of a new focus at DHS on enforcing the law and preventing fraud.
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