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New Immigration Rules Would Limit Access to Green Cards

A new rule would unfairly target minority immigrants who come into the country legally, immigration advocates say.EXPAND
A new rule would unfairly target minority immigrants who come into the country legally, immigration advocates say.
The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Today, the federal government will release new regulations that immigrant advocates say would unfairly target minority immigrants who come to the country legally and make it harder for families to succeed here.

According to the 837-page document detailing the updated rules, immigrants applying for green cards will be assessed based on financial assets and viability as well as pre-existing medical conditions and the ability to pay for treatment for them.

The changes focus on the policy defining when an immigrant becomes a “public charge” — someone who depends on the government for assistance with healthcare, housing and food. Currently, only those who receive cash benefits or long-term institutional care can be considered public charges and denied a green card for that reason.

Under the proposed changes, immigrants could be deemed public charges if they use the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP; receive a government subsidy for prescription medication or housing assistance; or get non-emergency Medicaid services, except in the case of some disability services offered in schools.

“Overall I think it's going to scare people and maybe make them less likely to seek help,” said Celsa Rodriguez-Story, an attorney with the Dallas-based law firm Scheef & Stone.

For Rodriguez-Story, the new regulations do offer clarity. Although most of her clients are in a high enough income bracket that they don't need government assistance, Rodriguez-Story noted that she has a better sense of how to advise immigrants on what assistance programs they can take advantage of now.

The new rules do not require an act of Congress and will go into effect on Oct. 15, if they are not stopped by a court ruling, she said.

But the National Immigration Law Center announced Monday that it will file a legal action against the law, stating in a release that the new rule “expands on a century-old practice of penalizing immigrant families who sometimes struggle to make ends meet.”

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Although it's not clear how many Texans will be affected by the changes, a report by the Urban Institute estimated that 1 in 7 immigrant families didn't apply for assistance because of fears about green card status. More than 1 in 4 children in Texas has a parent who is not a U.S. citizen, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

"This xenophobic regulation will close the doors to hard-working new Americans who are critical to our Texas economy and our American tradition of family immigration and social mobility,” said Anne Dunkelberg, the center's associate director, in a written statement.

The finalized rules, which were announced last fall, come just a week after Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested hundreds of immigrants in Mississippi, after months of reports of the untenable conditions in immigrant holding facilities and as President Donald Trump has repeatedly sought to limit and discourage even legal immigration to the country.

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