New rule by USCIS could deny green cards, citizenship to immigrants who need public assistance

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Legal immigrants who use public benefits — such as Medicaid, food stamps or housing assistance — could have a tougher time obtaining a green card or U.S. citizenship under a policy change announced Monday that is at the center of the Trump administration’s effort to reduce immigration.

The new policy for “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” which has been posted on the Federal Register’s website and will take effect in two months, sets new standards for obtaining permanent residency and U.S. citizenship.

The Trump administration has been seeking to limit those immigrants who might draw on taxpayer-funded benefits, such as many of those who have been fleeing Central America, while allowing more highly skilled and wealthy immigrants into the United States.

Wealth, education, age and English-language skills will take on greater importance in the process for obtaining a green card, as the change seeks to redefine what it means to be a “public charge,” as well as who is likely to be one under U.S. immigration law.

In recent months, the Trump administration has slashed the number of refugees admitted to the United States, tightened access to the asylum system and expanded the power of the government to detain and deport those lacking legal status.

The new rule from USCIS, an agency within the Department of Homeland Security — focuses on the obscure definition of what it means to be a “public charge,” or someone dependent on U.S. government benefits, and who is “likely” to become one.

Likeliness of becoming a public charge already is grounds to be denied a green card or the opportunity to become a U.S. citizen. To this end, the Trump administration will broaden the public charge definition to encompass not just those primarily dependent on public assistance programs, but anyone who uses a public benefit, including publicly funded health care programs including Medicaid, food stamps, other nutrition-related programs, or housing assistance.

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