Federal rules governing green cards are tightening up under the Republican Trump administration, effective October 2019. Immigrants receiving public assistance may find it harder to stay here legally after that date as officials find it easier to reject green card and visa applications.
Non-citizens of the United States need to have a Permanent Residence Card (PRC) – commonly called a green card – to reside and work legally here. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) document grants the rights, benefits, and privileges of permanent residency.
Out of the estimated 13.2 million U.S. green card holders, 8.9 million are eligible for citizenship. A foreigner with a green card earns statutory citizenship after presenting evidence that s/he has resided without interruption in the country for at least five years and has a good moral character.
Most people applying for a green card are sponsored by a U.S. family member or employer. Others may become permanent residents through refugee or asylee status or other humanitarian programs. Some people are eligible to file for themselves.
Under current federal law, applicants for U.S. citizenship must explain how they plan to be self-sufficient and avoid becoming a “public charge” dependent on assistance programs. A person who is “primarily dependent” on government assistance receives more than half her/his income from some form of official dole.
The new regulation, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” increases the number of programs that could disqualify applicants and “includes a requirement that aliens seeking an extension of stay or change of status demonstrate that they have not, since obtaining the nonimmigrant status they seek to extend or change, received public benefits over the designated threshold, as defined in this rule.”
Low-income, undereducated immigrants applying for a green card may soon find themselves ineligible for permanent residency status in the U.S. if they have received – or are reasonably expected to need – assistance programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers, and several other types of public assistance.
Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, explained that nations become stronger when new citizens don’t need an immediate handout from federal, state, and local governments:
“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient. That’s a core principle of the American Dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”
According to Cuccinelli, the new restrictions will reward “self-reliance and self-sufficiency for those seeking to come to or stay in the United States” – and, frankly, punish freeloaders by denying them permanent residency and a chance to become naturalized citizens:
“We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet so, if people are not able to be self-sufficient, then this negative factor is going to bear very heavily against them in a decision about whether they’ll be able to become a legal permanent resident.”
In other words, the privilege of citizenship will depend on the applicant’s economic performance. The new U.S. regulation will shift the focus on prospective citizens toward their skills and assets rather than reuniting family members.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that the new regulation will impact about 382,000 immigrants. Prospective foreign-born citizens deemed likely to become a public charge could be required to post a bond for a minimum amount of $10,000, returned after naturalization or when an immigrant leaves the country.
Former Texas Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rouke twisted the reasoning and motivation behind the new green card regulation in a Twitter message sent on August 12:
“Legal. Undocumented. Refugee. Asylum Seeker. The distinctions don’t matter to President Trump. If you’re an immigrant, he believes you have no place in this country — even though, for 243 years, immigrants have made America the greatest nation the world has ever known.”
Certainly, the United States is a melting pot of foreign immigrants. But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that American citizens are being deprived of their rightful benefits in favor of low-income foreigners:
“A majority of ‘non-citizens,’ including those with legal green card rights, are tapping into welfare programs set up to help poor and ailing Americans.”
In 2014, 63 percent of non-citizens benefited from a welfare program, a number that rose to 70 percent among temporary residents here 10 years or more.
The Center for Immigration Studies, an immigration think tank based in Washington, D.C., supported the tougher citizenship requirements:
“Concern over immigrant welfare use is justified, as households headed by non-citizens use means-tested welfare at high rates. Non-citizens in the data include illegal immigrants, long-term temporary visitors like guest workers, and permanent residents who have not naturalized. While barriers to welfare use exist for these groups, it has not prevented them from making extensive use of the welfare system, often receiving benefits on behalf of U.S.-born children.”
MAGA – Making America Great Again – means putting needy U.S. citizens first while welcoming new permanent residents who can land on their own two feet, if not hit the ground running.