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'Another cruel step': US rights groups slam new immigration rules

Activists lash out at a White House plan to deny green cards to immigrants who receive benefits.

Rights groups in the United States have slammed a plan by the Trump administration to deny green cards to immigrants who receive public benefits such as food stamps. 

On Saturday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) listed a wide range of benefits which, if claimed, could disqualify US immigrants seeking visas or green cards, or prevent immigrants already in the US from changing their legal status. 

People applying for green cards already have to prove that they will not become a burden on the state, and are penalised for claiming cash benefits.

The new rules would extend those measures to non-cash benefits, such as food stamps and housing vouchers, which are considered "heavily weighed negative factors" in obtaining legal permanent status. 

"This proposed rule will implement a law passed by Congress intended to promote immigrant self-sufficiency and protect finite resources by ensuring that they are not likely to become burdens on American taxpayers," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement issued on Saturday. 

Immigration rights groups condemned the proposal.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Centre, called the plan "another cruel step" by the Trump administration.

"How you contribute to your community - and not what you look like or the contents of your wallet - should be what matters most," she said in a statement.

"This proposed rule does the opposite and makes clear that the Trump administration continues to prioritise money over family unity by ensuring that only the wealthiest can afford to build a future in this country."

In a tweet, the American Civil Liberties Union said the move constituted a "new attempt to kick and keep immigrants out of our country and attack people with disabilities".

The Legal Aid Society echoed concerns that the rule could create a situation where immigrants forgo much-needed assistance for fears of negatively impacting their applications.

"If adopted, the rule will create a nationwide health crisis impacting millions, and deter families from seeking vital medical care when they need it the most," Attorney-in-Charge Adriene Holder said in a statement.

"This proposal is radical and dangerous, and wholly against our values and principles as a nation founded by immigrants."

The DHS estimated the rule would affect just over 382,200 immigrants applying to adjust their status to lawful permanent residents each year. 


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