U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced Aug. 12 that it has finalized the controversial ‘public charge rule,’ which denies permanent status to immigrants who have received federal aid and benefits or are likely to do so in the future.

The new rule would potentially deny green cards to one million immigrants each year who are currently living in the U.S. and have received any of several forms of federal public aid, including food stamps — a program known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP — Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Aid for Needy Families, or TANF.

Immigrants applying for green cards must also be able to document that they earn at least 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, about $41,000 per year for a couple, and about $73,000 for a family of five.

Nationwide, about seven percent of Indian Americans live at or below the federal poverty level, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most forms of federal public aid.

Manju Kulkarni, Indian American executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, stated that the new rule was “purely cruel” in its attempt to deter immigrants from accessing needed services and aid.

“The Trump administration has shown its animus towards undocumented immigrant communities, but it’s clear that it is also trying to suppress all forms of legal immigration as well,” she told India-West, adding: “This will have huge ramifications for immigrant families.”

Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress, has been an outspoken opponent of the public charge rule, drawing upon her own childhood as she was raised by a single mother.

“My father left for a time, and my mother had to be on welfare. She worked hard to support me and my brother. We also had help; a lot of help. We used lunch vouchers at school and food stamps at the supermarket,” she said at a speech during the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

Tanden earned her law degree from Yale, served as former New York Senator Hillary Clinton’s legislative director, and also spent a stint in the Obama White House.

The new rule would also adversely impact immigrants who live abroad and are seeking permanent entry into the U.S. Those who are determined by USCIS to need federal public aid in the future, will also be denied a visa, potentially affecting about 13 million people each year. USCIS will use a variety of factors such as level of education, current income, ability to speak English, age, and chronic diseases to determine eligibility.

The rule would heavily impact Indian American families in several ways. Aging parents of adult Indian Americans would face many more barriers to permanent entry in the U.S., Doug Rand — co-founder of Boundless Immigration, boundless.com — told India-West.

Elderly parents seeking to immigrate to the U.S. are unlikely going to be able to document being able to sustain a household income of $41,000 per year, he said, noting that the Department of Homeland Security — of which USCIS is a component — may not consider the household income of their children in determining eligibility, since they would not be in that household when applying.

Indian parents who are over 61, with limited English proficiency and chronic health conditions would unlikely be able to attain a green card, said Rand, who formerly served as assistant director for entrepreneurship at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama Administration.

Separately, H-1B holders and their spouses may also face hurdles in their ability to document a sustainable income. Many spouses of H-1B visa holders currently hold work authorization, a provision implemented during the Obama administration. Shortly after President Donald Trump took office, his administration announced its intent to cancel H-4 EAD. The revocation of that rule has not yet been finalized, but, if it does become a final rule, H-4 visa holders will have no income to document.

Rand told India-West that household income would be considered, thus the income of the H-1B spouse would count towards the threshold. He noted, however, that single income households might have a greater challenge in meeting the 250 percent of the federal poverty level guideline.

The new rule will allow USCIS to deny more than 50 percent of all marriage green card applicants, according Rand. This would force an estimated 200,000 married couples each year to leave the U.S. or live apart indefinitely, he told India-West.

The public charge rule has been entered into the Federal Register and will go into effect Oct. 15. Rand predicted the rule will be challenged in court, which may delay implementation.

During a 60-day public comment period on a draft rule, the Department of Homeland Security received almost 64,000 final responses, with most people opposing the rule. (read the comments here: https://bit.ly/31zWQai)

The rule was harshly criticized by several immigrant rights organizations, including South Asian Americans Leading Together. “Trump’s public charge rule puts the rich ahead of families who've spent years going through the immigration process to stay together. We must fight back against this abusive policy,” tweeted the organization.

Bonnie Kwon, a spokeswoman for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, said in a statement that the rule is “a policy intended to penalize immigrants by making it significantly harder for people who use health, nutrition, housing and other vital programs to qualify for permanent legal status.”

The organization Justice in Aging also denounced the new rule, terming it ‘draconian.’

“These changes are part of a larger, cruel effort on the part of the Administration to codify racism into policy and use immigration law to tear apart families, including those of low-income older adults,” noting that it would be much harder for lower-income older adults to enter the U.S.

“For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation’s immigration laws. President Donald Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli in a press statement, adding: “Throughout our history, self-sufficiency has been a core tenet of the American dream.”

“To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient,” said President Trump in a statement issued by the White House Aug. 12. “We must ensure that non-citizens do not abuse our public benefit programs and jeopardize the social safety net needed by vulnerable Americans,” he said.

(See earlier story in India-West here: https://bit.ly/31aB3qz)

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