Trump Administration Aims to Sharply Restrict New Green Cards for Those on Public Aid

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WASHINGTON — Trump administration officials announced Saturday that immigrants who legally use public benefits like food assistance and Section 8 housing vouchers could be denied green cards under new rules aimed at keeping out people the administration deems a drain on the country.

The move could force millions of poor immigrants who rely on public assistance for food and shelter to make a difficult choice between accepting financial help and seeking a green card to live and work legally in the United States.

Older immigrants, many of whom get low-cost prescription drugs through the Medicare Part D program, could also be forced to stop participating in the popular benefits program or risk being deemed a “public charge” who is ineligible for legal resident status.

The move is not intended to affect most immigrants who have already been granted green cards, but advocates have said they fear that those with legal resident status will stop using public benefits to protect their status. The regulation, which the administration said would affect about 382,000 people a year, is the latest in a series of aggressive crackdowns by President Trump and his hard-line aides on legal and illegal immigration.

Federal law has always required those seeking green cards to prove they will not be a burden and has taken into consideration the acceptance of cash benefits. But the government has never before considered the use of other public benefits, like assistance for food.

Now, the new regulation — announced on the Department of Homeland Security website — will require that immigration caseworkers consider the use of public benefits to be “heavily weighed negative factors” for those who are applying to remain legally in the country on a permanent basis. Those who are deemed likely to become dependent on government assistance will probably be denied.

Immigrants could be asked in limited cases to post cash bonds of at least $10,000 to avoid being denied green cards under the new regulation, which does not need congressional approval but must still go through a public review process before it becomes final. Officials said they expected the regulation to become final after being posted to the Federal Register in the coming weeks and undergoing the 60-day review period.

In a news release, the Department of Homeland Security said the new rule would “ensure that those seeking to enter and remain in the United States either temporarily or permanently can support themselves financially and will not be reliant on public benefits.”

The 447-page rule, titled “Inadmissibility on Public Charge Grounds,” will not apply to families making less than 15 percent of the official poverty designation, officials said.

Pro-immigrant activists predict that poor immigrants will immediately begin withdrawing from public assistance programs — even at the risk of losing needed assistance for food, shelter and medicine — out of a fear that they will be denied green cards and will be deported.

There are political implications to the move, which comes less than two months before the midterm elections, which will determine who controls the House and the Senate for the next two years of Mr. Trump’s tenure.

Focusing on the use of public benefits is often an effective way to galvanize conservative supporters. Drawing attention to the use of those benefits by immigrants could be an especially effective way to turn out Mr. Trump’s supporters across the country.

Stephen Miller, the president’s top immigration adviser, has long believed that being tough on immigrants is a winning tactic for Republican candidates who too often — in Mr. Miller’s view — have compromised with Democrats on the issue. He has pushed hard for the new rule during the past several months.

But the breadth of the effect on immigrants could also energize liberal voters to support Democratic candidates. In New York, for example, city officials estimated that under an earlier draft of the regulation, which was leaked to the news media, nearly one million people could be hurt.

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