Protest groups rally along downtown Miami streets against the immigration policies of President Donald Trump’s administration, in Miami, Florida, the United States, June 30, 2018. [Photo/IC]

President Donald Trump’s administration is rolling out immigration reform that would penalize legal immigrants living in the US who rely on public assistance programs such as government food stamps or public housing and prevent them from receiving a green card.

The new measures are scheduled to go into effect in 60 days and could result in legal immigrants in the US being denied immigration benefits if they are deemed unable to look after themselves financially or are a “public charge” because they have accepted public assistance.

The rule could affect at least 900,000 immigrants living in the US who have used Medicaid, government housing assistance or food stamps, according to The Wall Street Journal.

In the 837-page document issued on Monday, the Trump administration said it wants immigrants who “will not depend on public resources to meet their needs”.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, told Fox News that the rule change would “have the long-term benefit of protecting taxpayers by ensuring people who are immigrating to this country don’t become public burdens”.

The regulation called the “Public Charge Rule” has come under fire by immigrants’ rights advocates who say it will unfairly target immigrant communities who receive public benefits. They also say the rule narrows the demographic and race of those who can seek a life in the US.

Amy Torres, director of Policy and Advocacy at the Chinese American Planning Council, believes that Asian Americans could feel the brunt of the rule, particularly in cities like New York.

“Asian Americans are more likely to be underenrolled in public services and benefits even though they are often more eligible. In 2050, the United States is slated to be a majority-minority population. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group nationwide and here and in New York state,” she told China Daily.

“We make up 15 percent of New York City’s population, so we know that as we are looking forward to that date, the federal administration is too, and any policies that they can do to deprive youth of the services and benefits that promote their safety and well-being deprives a future generation of community leaders.”

The rule is derived from the Immigration Act of 1882, which allows officials to deny a visa to anyone who could become a “public charge”. In its current state, it refers to those who get more than half of their income from government assistance.

The new rule is backed by Stephen Miller, senior adviser for policy in the Trump administration and creator of many of the latest immigration reforms.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday vowed to fight the rule and said he will take the Trump administration to court. Other legal challenges are expected.

“The president is launching a direct assault on our immigrant brothers and sisters. The America we know was built by hardworking dreamers from all over the world,” de Blasio said in a statement.

The mere announcement of the rule is “exacerbating a chilling fear that many communities have”, Bitta Mostofi, the commissioner of the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA), told China Daily.

“Working with the Department of Social Services just a couple of months ago the city released data showing that non-citizen clients of SNAP benefits (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) are disenrolling at much greater rates than citizen clients (about 8 percent greater.) This is intentional; it’s meant to instill fear … we have to do everything in our power to make sure that people are not needlessly forgoing the benefits they need for their families,” she said.

Steve Choy, executive director for the New York Immigration Coalition, told China Daily: “The real fear here is not just that people will be affected and stopped from being able to access [public assistance], but there is a climate of fear that prevents so many more people from saying ‘I’m not going to take advantage of my legal right to get access to healthcare or shelter.'”

Hasan Shafiquillah, an attorney in charge of the immigration law unit of the Legal Aid Society, told China Daily: “If you’re not a citizen and you’re getting benefits, do not disenroll. If you think you might be affected by this rule, speak with a qualified immigration expert before taking any drastic action.

“This affects only certain people, people who are trying to get permanent residence (their green cards) through a family member. Even then, certain family members are exempt. It really is important to find out what exactly are your rights … before giving up any benefits that you’re entitled to.”

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