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After two years of tightening immigration rules that focus on people here illegally, the Trump administration is taking another dramatic step, this time focusing on legal immigration in the United States. An immigrant who has used Medicaid or food stamps or other public benefits could soon be denied a chance at legal permanent residency or U.S. citizenship. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez reports.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: The Trump administration is making it harder for immigrants who want to obtain legal permanent residency. Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, said it's time to update the long-established rules to ensure those coming to the United States can stand on their own two feet and not be a burden to the U.S. taxpayer.
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KEN CUCCINELLI: What we're looking for here are people who are going to live with us either their whole lives or, ultimately, become citizens, who can stand on their own two feet with the same sort of requirements that we've had in the past, for well over a century.
ORDOÑEZ: Federal law has long required those seeking green cards and legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. But the new rules dramatically expand the reasons to potentially deny someone legal permanent residency, such as if an immigrant used Medicaid or housing vouchers. The administration will also consider applicants' English skills, income and health. Supporters see it as a smarter, more future-looking approach to immigration they say will incentivize newcomers and save taxpayers billions of dollars. This is RJ Hauman, the government relations director at FAIR, which advocates for tightening immigration controls.
RJ HAUMAN: These people weren't objectively assessed on their self-reliance but rather their bloodline. Again - so a lot of these people coming in without a - an economic reason, an employment opportunity, they're a recipe for financial disaster. They're going to cost us absolute billions of dollars.
ORDOÑEZ: This administration has focused much of its political capital on fighting illegal immigration, but this is one of the most aggressive crackdowns on legal immigration. Immigration advocates say the rule is already having a chilling effect on immigrant and Latino communities and could lead to some not seeking medical care or other benefits, including for their U.S. citizen children. Some Latinos are already feeling under attack by the president's heated rhetoric and crackdown on immigration. Those feelings have heightened after the mass shooting in El Paso and subsequent immigration raids in Mississippi, each of which targeted largely Latino and immigrant communities of Mexican and Central American descent. Cuccinelli said there's no reason for any group to feel like this is targeting them.
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CUCCINELLI: If we had been having this conversation a hundred years ago, it would have applied to more Italians.
ORDOÑEZ: Those concerns were high even before these events. A 2018 Pew Center poll found that two-thirds of Latinos felt their situation had deteriorated under the Trump administration. The rule is expected to be challenged. And legal experts like Leon Fresco, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration, say it could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
LEON FRESCO: I also expect lawsuits from individuals who say that, at the end of the day, if Congress provided certain benefits to be accessible by certain groups of immigrants, that meant that they did not want them then banned under the public charge rule.
ORDOÑEZ: The rule does not apply to refugees, asylum-seekers and trafficking victims. It also excludes active-duty service members, their spouses and children.
Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.